Thursday, July 16, 2009

Words are where you find them

My daughter says she wants to be a singer and write songs when she grows up. Though her brother laughs and rolls his eyes every time she mentions her dream, I’ve taken due diligence to not discourage her. She knows how to log onto her computer, type in her lyrics and save each document. She also keeps a notebook, well, a lot of pieces of paper stapled together with her “BEST” songs. And she sings a selection of them to me every day.

While we were watching the Michael Jackson tributes a few weeks ago, she kept me up hours past my designated bed time as she studied his dance moves and jotted in her notebooks. She kept saying, “He’s giving me so many ideas!”

That’s the thing about inspiration. I’ve found ideas lurking in my daughter’s nightmares, my own dreams, reality TV, past jobs, bad memories, song titles and wishes. But most of my plot basics come from plain old life.

My University of Missouri-Columbia journalism degree consists of mostly liberal arts courses. The philosophy was that we needed a broad-based education in order to be effective reporters. There were, of course, the media-specific and technical classes that made Mizzou’s degree what it was, but we spent a lot of time learning a little bit about everything. Considering that I quickly veered from the news career path, that training has been most beneficial to me as a novelist.

Aside from reading, I’ve found observation to be my best writing teacher. So if you spend inordinate amounts of time simply trying to generate ideas to plot around, perhaps you should spend a day in the park, on the subway or walking city streets or country roads.

Living a varied life can help as well. I keep my friends entertained with the true stories of my every day existence. But being the escapist that I am, I tend to write the opposite of my reality. The point here is that if your inspiration falters, change your scenery. Extraordinary story ideas are woven into the fabric of ordinary moments. The universe is bursting with ideas waiting to be plucked by you.



KeVin K. said...

I think it's marvelous your daughter is finding inspiration in so many places.
When readers ask writers "where do you get your ideas?" we writers too often say "the ideas are the easy part, they're all around us."
Well, yes and no.
The ideas are there, but you have to have eyes and a mind that are open to see them. (Bases your daughter seems to have well covered.)

Liane Spicer said...

"Extraordinary story ideas are woven into the fabric of ordinary moments."

Well said, Stefanie. Everything I've written so far has been grounded in my real-life experience. It starts with observation and accelerates when I throw in a few 'what ifs'. Finally there's the satisfaction of resolving the conflicts exactly the way I want - unlike in real life. If I had to generate ideas out of nothing I'd be stumped.

I'm also a great advocate of changing the scenery and shaking things up. As a matter of fact, I'm overdue for one of those right now. :)