The Care and Feeding of Ideas

The question readers, acquaintances and family members ask me most often is, "Where do you get your ideas?" I used to hate this question. Any time someone posed it, I think I'd actually cringe. After all, how do I explain to someone who doesn't write that ideas are literally everywhere? I gave up trying after my response met with blank stares and incredulity. If ideas really were everywhere, wouldn't everyone be writing books? Screenplays? Poems? The world would be filled with writers!

What most people don't understand is that it's not the idea that's important. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that the idea itself means nothing at all. It's what you do with it that matters.

But that's a whole other blog post. For the purposes of this one, let's return to the topic of ideas. Okay, so ideas are everywhere. But how do you find them? More importantly, how do you capture them? And what do you do with them once you have them?

I picture ideas as having a physical form. In my mind, they're fireflies -- little specks of golden light that have a life of their own.

Your job, as a writer, is to capture fireflies and treat them well. Don't force them to do something they weren't born to do. Don't stifle them or put them in a jar so you can tap on the glass every now and then to make sure they're still there. Work with them. Play with them. Live with them.

For a little under two years, I've challenged myself to come up with a new book title every day, and three new story ideas a week. As I go about my day, I keep an eye out for fireflies. They exist in a snippet of overheard conversation, in the tattoo circling a woman's belly button, or in a newspaper headline. More often, they're in books, movies and TV.

To date, I have 700 titles for stories waiting to be written. Since I take my fireflies out to play often, I keep my title file open on my desktop at all times and peek inside a few times a day. Here are the last ten titles I've come up with:

Night Signals
Once a Bachelor
Cowboy Dreams
Dark Fire
Sultry Delight
Two Naughty Brothers
Bedtime Sins
Carnal Memories

I don't pretend to claim these are the most innovative, or even the most exciting, titles. But each one of them holds a grain of an idea. The essence of a firefly.

Once I have a title, all I have to do is play the "What If?" game. On average, I can fill five loose-leaf notebook pages based simply on free-association from one or two words alone. And from there, a book takes shape.

So, to recap:

1. Look out for fireflies
2. Capture them
3. Work with them
4. Play with them
5. Live with them

They'll be good to you.

Just for fun, look around you and spot a firefly. I guarantee you have at least twenty surrounding you right now. Catch one. What does it look like? Where did you find it? Even if you're not a writer, what can you do with your firefly during the course of your day?


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Blogger Quoren said...

Exactly! Ideas are EVERYWHERE. Most of mine come from lyrics of some of my favourite songs and I have notebooks full of ideas, as well as papers stuffed here and there with more scribbled ideas on them. Yes.. What if... It always starts with What if...

(Hi, from Ottawa too!)

9:55 PM  
Blogger Lacey Savage said...

*waves* I'll be in Ottawa next week... you just made me homesick all over again. :-)

And don't you love that "What If..." game? It's gotten me into trouble (and out of it) more times than I can remember.

10:55 PM  
Blogger Quoren said...

I could spend forever just lost to fantasy playing "What if..." lol

Don't rush back - weather is terrible and the mosquitoes will carry you away.

10:19 PM  

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