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Where do writers’ ideas come from?



In the last two days I’ve been asked how I get ideas for writing stories. Two nights ago at a PTA meeting just before the homeroom teacher asked me if I’d come in and speak (again) to the girls. And the next day at an open house for my daughter’s ballet class.

I don’t get ideas, I look for ideas. It can be really hard work. I don’t see why ideas for writers should come from a source any different from ideas for what to make for dinner. For me the latter can also be really hard work.

When I have to make dinner on a regular weekday I whip through the kitchen, opening cupboards, vegetable bins, the freezer and dairy drawers: what have I got at hand?

The same is true for writing. I consider genre (historical? satirical?), I consider format (should I try for another short story for a new collection? Flash? Novel?). What have I got at hand? What’s inside me right now? Making me angry, jealous, scared? Making me laugh?

Sometimes the answer is nothing and I need to dig a lot deeper. (Ditto for making dinner, except it means digging deeper into my pocket and playing an old favorite game: ‘corner store dinner’ in which we make a show out of trooping down to the corner store and each child chooses something for dinner that has to involve no preparation and no dishes. Fresh baguettes, drinking yogurts and chocolate milk are big winners in this game.   

I watched as the faces of both women dropped at my blasé response. I do not have a more romantic answer. I start with my goals: Am I writing for a specific audience? To test out a writing exercise before I include it in an online class? Then I whip through the cupboards and bins of my imagination, way back sometimes to the dark deep freeze.



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