“Where do you get your ideas?”
This is probably the most frequent question writers get asked. My answer? Everywhere.
Ideas for stories can begin with the tiniest thing. Or, they can fall from the sky, huge and already half-built, right into your lap. All you have to do is look around, and you’ll see them.
They’re in the old woman waiting for a bus, the iron pressing the wrinkles out of a collar, the dog abandoned by its family, the teenager inventing her own words, the kid shuffling to school with hunched shoulders, or the kid standing tall and meeting the world head on. There are stories in all of these things.
A new story idea has been niggling in the back of my mind for quite some time. It partly came from a horrible and vivid nightmare. I woke, shaking and sweating, then stared at the ceiling for the rest of the night because I did not want to go back to it (as I sometimes do). The next day, when the sun was out and I felt a bit braver, I thought about this dream. There were many aspects that would never go into a children’s book, at least not one that I would write. But there were others, tiny nuggets in this realm of terror, that I plucked out, wrote down, and brainstormed. Pretty soon, I had this vivid new idea gripping me by the throat, demanding me to write it. I was in the middle of another story at the time, one that I really wanted to finish, so I made myself set this one aside. One of the hardest things I’ve had to do.
Which brings up another question, one often asked by other writers. How do you deal with new ideas when you’re already up to your eyeballs in another one?
I think the answer to this is personal preference, or how your brain processes things. Some people can read multiple books at a time, and some can’t. Some people like to have several stories going at once, and some don’t. Which are you? I'm a one-at-a-time gal, myself.
But what about this: since you’ve gotten this great new idea, does it mean you have to start writing it immediately? Not necessarily. There’s something to be said for letting your ideas stew for a bit. For the idea I mentioned above, I’m glad I didn’t start on it right away. Aside from the fact that I finished my other project (yay!), that extra time to let it simmer has given it a deeper, richer flavor. The setting has grown. The characters have fleshed themselves out. The main character has taken over, and tells me more and more how this story needs to be told. Rather, how it *will* be told, whether I like it or not. If I had started working on this story right out of the gate, none of this would have happened. And the story would have suffered. So, I think that, from now on, letting my ideas simmer is going to be a regular practice of mine. No matter how hard it is to set them aside.