I feel like people always ask writers: Where do you get your ideas?
More often than not, the answer is everywhere.
It’s the same for me.
I get ideas from song lyrics, conversations, the radio, dreams, daydreams, Wikipedia, real-life events, funny things my co-workers say, freewriting, scents and smells, prompts, answers to the (many) questions I ask on Facebook, people I meet, Pinterest, memories from high school, websites I visit on accident, websites I visit on purpose, Tumblr, photographs and images, pretty dresses, cute things my favorite kiddos say, Quora, novels, memoirs, poems, books of quotations, books of symbols, books of trivia, books of anecdotes, books of mythology, instruction manuals, online journals, art, antiques, trees, weather, arguments, and on and on and on.
I usually start with an idea and a handful of characters. Truest started because of a Wikipedia article I stumbled upon years ago about a topic that continued to fascinate and haunt me until I decided to write about it. The next novel that I’m working on was sparked by a tiny entry in the Encyclopedia of Things That Never Were. The novel after that? Inspired by a website I love and the what if thought that popped into my head one day while visiting it.
Of course, the characters make the story, so once I have an idea– even just the tiniest wisp of one– I have to start assembling the cast. I start actually by looking for pictures– I scour Pinterest, Tumblr, & We Heart It until a picture hits me and I know that’s my character. I know a lot of authors despise character surveys and think they’re a waste of time– and I actually can agree that’s true for most surveys (this is not the time to worry about my character’s favorite color)– but I have two that I just love and always, always use. The first set of questions comes from Gotham Writers’ Workshop. The second set are from this Yingle Yangle post. When I finish answering those questions about my main characters, I am usually brimming with ideas and feel like I know tons more about them.
There’s lots of research involved. I end up requesting a boatload of books from my public library and from the university libraries in the Twin Cities. I read like a maniac– both on paper and online– about all the various elements that I think are going to matter to my book (some of those things will not survive the cut, of course, but knowledge is knowledge and I love learning!).
Research and drafting will mostly happen simultaneously, and the entire time, I will keep getting ideas from everything in my world, jotting them down, and turning them into scenes.
Inspiration and ideas are all around us, and if you have your eyes and ears– and heart– open, you can’t help but marvel.
Image credit: Andres Nieto Porras