Where Do You Get Ideas?
Where do you get your ideas? This is one of the most frequent questions I am asked as an author. I know from the multiple author events I have attended I am not alone. I sometimes feel like my brain is so clogged with ideas I don’t know how to pull them out one at a time. Or worse, that time will run out before I’ve been able to do them all justice. Without scaring you into thinking this is going to be a Buddhist moment or one which you need to be sitting on a map to hear, I want to make a writer’s pitch for being in the present moment. We miss so much of what is going on around us while we are staring at a tiny screen that removes us from our surroundings. I am guilty of this, so I am not preaching. During our winter stay in St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, my husband will be driving us on a road that essentially runs through a rain forest filled with natural wonders. There are clouds above so billowy you want to plop them onto a cup of hot chocolate. Enormous cows will stand in the middle of the road and stop traffic. Donkeys climb the hills without effort, not too shy to come to your car window to check if you have snacks for them. And I’m looking at my phone. Really? Yes, really, although I’m working on it. I do make a conscious effort to be in my surroundings. Yesterday I traveled from St. John to Bethesda, Maryland where I will be attending the Malice Domestic Conference held by Sisters in Crime. I took a car ferry to St. Thomas, a plane to San Juan and then Washington, D.C. and finally a shuttle to my hotel. Where do I get my ideas? I watched the various cars back onto the ferry. I wondered where everyone was going. I looked at the guys driving Mac trucks in reverse up close to other trucks. I pondered whether the person driving the DHL van liked that he had to drive over water to do his route. I watched the staff of the ferry meet and greet passengers, coaching them to get just a little closer to the car next to them, sometimes with tender patience, other times barking. All of the people on this ferry have stories. I may not know what they are, but if I take the time to watch and listen to them, I start to get “ideas.” At the airport, I sat next to a middle-aged multi-cultural couple with a son around four. I wondered where did the couple meet? Would they have just this one child? (You can wonder about questions you might not feel comfortable asking, but go ahead and think about them. It primes the story pump.) I was amazed by the prowess of the child on a Kid Kindle playing some game, while his dad struggled next to him on his own device, trying to keep up with the same. When the father said with delight, “Yes, I found it,” and the son said, “Good job, Dad,” I smiled. What would this child be like as a teenager? How would the father cope when he’s already behind? The mother looked on patiently at the two, but also at her phone. What is this little family’s story? It’s as if someone handed me a page out of a coloring book with the family’s portrait drawn, ready for me to color in with my version of their story. Where do I get ideas? Waiting rooms, any form of public transportation, at the grocery store. Any place that there is a line of people waiting. Even better if they are waiting for their government to service them, like at a motor vehicle department. Courtrooms. Get outdoors to find ideas. When I find a gecko on the windshield after leaving a beach in St. John, I worry I’ve taken him away from his family on Francis Bay and that he will have to find a new life over on Coral Bay. I’ve thought about writing a child’s book “Do You Know the Way to Francis Bay” starring Larry, the Lizard for years. And what about that cow sitting in the middle of the road? Who owns her and why? Does she enjoy the attention she gets or is she just having a bad day and taking it out on tourists trying to get to the beach? Remember what your parents told you to do before you crossed a street? Stop. Look. Listen. If you stop and ask, “What’s the story?” with whatever you are observing, you may be flooded with ideas. Go ahead and pick one or more. And write that story.