How I Write: Where the heck did you get that idea? (And my dirty little secret.)

Welcome to our new summer series about how I write. You might learn more than you want to know. You might find something useful. You might just want to join in the fun. All credit for the idea and outline of topics goes to Ansha Kotyk.

You read a book or a great premise and say to yourself – it should be easy to come up with an idea like that.

What not to do:

  1. Sit at your computer staring at the blank page hour after hour.
  2. Eat bags of jelly beans hoping the sugar rush will spark an idea.
  3. Do yoga while listening to classical music to usher in the muse. (Okay that might work for some people.)
  4. Let discouragement take over because you can’t seem to come up with your next great idea.
  5. Put pressure on your brain to create.

 I’ve tried a couple of those, and trust me, they don’t work.

 I’ve come up with ideas several different ways.

  1.   Research a topic of interest and often real stories and events will spark an idea.
  2.  Take two things I love and mash them together.
  3.  I’ve had one dream about a character and a situation but I’m so not ready to write about it. Someday.
  4. Walk past an amazing, unique setting or situation and immediately think, book idea.
  5. Take a real event in my life or my children’s life and exaggerate it, twist it around, shake it up, stretch it out, take it dancing – and see what happens.
  6. My friend says something about her tween daughter and whamo – perfect idea.
  7. Rebellion against trending subject and plots.

Sometimes, the best thing I can do is take pressure off my brain. Read. Watch movies. Do dishes. Clean my kids’ room. Exercise. Be social. Because even brains needs a vacay.

And now for my dirty little secret. I write middle grade. But it’s really hard for me to find a contemporary middle grade book I absolutely love. 

And that’s why on Friday, I’m giving away some middle grade books that I absolutely enjoyed reading. Two book packages. With two great authors. Stay tuned.

Check out how my crit partners get their ideas. Fabulous crit partner Ansha. Fabulous crit partner Kris. And fabulous crit partner Jen.

Helpful posts on generating ideas here and here and here.

How do you get your ideas? Share!

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25 Responses to How I Write: Where the heck did you get that idea? (And my dirty little secret.)

  1. The Alliterative Allomorph June 16, 2010 at 8:47 am #

    I have absolutely no idea, how I get them. I pretty much just try to mould real experiences into interesting stories, I suppose.

  2. Andrea June 16, 2010 at 11:14 am #

    Ideas come to me all the time, but usually each one isn’t enough to turn into a full blown novel. They are snippets of conversations, ideas sparked by something I’ve read or seen my kids do. Sometimes they seem to come out of the blue. They always need more thought, and often connections to other ideas before I can turn them into a story.

  3. Laura June 16, 2010 at 11:27 am #

    I like that Jessica – real experiences and interesting stories.

    Andrea – And yes! A comment or scene. All it takes is a spark!

  4. Jennifer Shirk June 16, 2010 at 11:38 am #

    Usually they pop in my head at the weirdest times. But sometimes I get a spark of an idea from a news story or soemthing funny that happened in the news.

  5. Andrea Vlahakis June 16, 2010 at 11:48 am #

    Mine almost always come out of the blue, and then it’s a rush to jot the idea down and flesh it out a bit. Also, my ideas begin with a character.

  6. Laura June 16, 2010 at 12:05 pm #

    Jennifer and Andrea V. – I love when ideas pop into my head or come out of the blue – they don’t always come to fruition but then its a rush to write them down and brainstorm.

  7. Laura June 16, 2010 at 12:13 pm #

    And soon, I hope to figure out how to get the banner into my post. 🙁

  8. Kris June 16, 2010 at 12:16 pm #

    I wish the sugar rush thingy worked. That would be cool. 😉

    And I need to start a real working notebook for jotting ideas and plots — I’m always waiting somewhere and it would be helpful.

  9. Ansha Kotyk June 16, 2010 at 12:44 pm #

    Your rock the lists, Laura! The list of what not to do is equally important as what to do. The whole relax thing is big. Hear that Kris? RELAX and the next idea will show up. It’s kinda cool that way.
    I’m with you on researching a topic you love, not only do ideas show up there, but you’re learning new things and to me that’s the coolest.
    I also like to smash two things I enjoy together… kinda like peanut butter and jelly…or for me, cottage cheese and toast… but no one would get that analogy unless they witness my breakfasts. 🙂
    Great post! Thanks for joining in on the fun!

  10. Stina Lindenblatt June 16, 2010 at 12:47 pm #

    I love your idea for a new series.

    My new project is the meshing of two separate ideas (like your suggestion #2). Because they aren’t related in real life, I don’t have to worry that they’ve already been done. No trend following for me. 😀

    Great post!

  11. Creepy Query Girl June 16, 2010 at 1:20 pm #

    I guess my ideas come from wanting to read books that don’t exist. lol.

  12. Laura June 16, 2010 at 1:36 pm #

    Kris – Who knows? Maybe the sugar rush thing works. I like my teeth too much to eat a bag of jelly beans!

    Ansha – Unique combos are always fun!

    Stina – And the benefit of a unique combo is bucking the trends, which is always good.

    CQG – That’s a great one! Ask myself if I were reading this book – what I want to happen. I like it.

  13. Marcia June 16, 2010 at 2:24 pm #

    “And now for my dirty little secret. I write middle grade. But it’s really hard for me to find a contemporary middle grade book I absolutely love.”

    Me too! Although it was a stack of YA that I recently returned to the library, not able to get into a one of ’em. I’m absolutely burned out on paranormal YA. At least, I hope the problem is that specific. (One of them wasn’t paranormal though.) Not liking a bunch of books in a row always makes me nervous. Like, “What’s the matter with me?”

  14. Laura June 16, 2010 at 3:05 pm #

    Marcia – I treasure a book I find that I absolutely love. I’ve become way more picky since being a writer though. I understand why agents reject so many – they are looking for that story to love just like I am as a reader!

  15. Tina Lee June 16, 2010 at 5:14 pm #

    I think I like the term creation because it makes it seem bigger than just an idea. I know something has to live in my head awhile before it is book worthy, and then after that it has to be melded with other ideas, ones that keep coming and adding to that first one so that it is larger than itself. At least for me. If that makes any sense???!!!

  16. Gail Roarke June 16, 2010 at 5:16 pm #

    Regarding number one (don’t stare at a black screen): I highly recommend opening a file and just starting to write. Start with a story title, or a single line of dialogue or some piece of action. Then just write–without stopping, without editing (no backsies!)–for a fixed period of time.

    If it goes nowhere, all you’ve lost is a little time. But more often than you might think, you’ll find yourself telling a story. It may need editing (afterward!). You might even throw away the first few pages. But you’ll have shouldered your internal editor out of the way long enough for your creative side to seize the wheel.

  17. Laura Marcella June 16, 2010 at 5:51 pm #

    Hmm, I can see why eating bags of jelly beans wouldn’t spark an idea. But I’m pretty positive eating bags of chocolate practically writes the book for you!

    Heehee, I wish! If that were true I’d have hundreds of novels written by now, LOL!

    I’m sorry you haven’t found any contemporary middle-grade books you love. 🙁 I have dozens I love! I’m always reading something amazing. Have you ever read anything by Sharon Creech? Walk Two Moons and Chasing Redbird are two of my favorites, but I really love all of her books. Louis Sachar, Jerry Spinelli, and Katherine Paterson are other authors whose books I love. I just read several of Kate DiCamillo’s novels, and I liked them a lot, too.

  18. Laura Pauling June 16, 2010 at 7:01 pm #

    Laura – I have ones I love. I love Holes and Katherine Patterson and Because of Winn Dixie… But they are to find out of all the ones that I read. 🙂

  19. Anna June 16, 2010 at 7:35 pm #

    All great ways of coming up with ideas. I often find myself thinking: “Wouldn’t it be interesting if…” So I guess that constant “what if” is what helps spark my ideas.

  20. Kelly Polark June 16, 2010 at 8:09 pm #

    I’m not sure how I get my ideas. They really just come to me and I have to make sure I write them down, because if I don’t I forget them! I have a bunch of ideas for future books in my notebooks!

  21. PJ Hoover June 16, 2010 at 8:24 pm #

    OMG, the research thing always helps me. it’s kind of like magic that way. New plot twists and characters appear out of nowhere.

  22. Karen Lange June 17, 2010 at 2:32 am #

    I like #5 on your list. I do that too. I also do it when I write activities and games for student lessons. I like to think fun and excitement and see where things go. 🙂

  23. Tatiana Caldwell June 17, 2010 at 3:14 am #

    Heh heh, are you sure staring at a blank screen and pressuring the brain to come up with words doesn’t work? Really? Rats. ;D

    But seriously, #1, #2 on your good list I’ve done, #4 and #7 sound good also. For some reason, I don’t try to turn my dreams into stories – I don’t know why, I have very vivid, interesting dreams.


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