Writing Ideas Are Spring Flowers for the Plucking

North Flowery Trail

I’ve written before about how writing ideas are everywhere. It’s a commonplace that people ask writers how or where they get their ideas, as though there’s a shortage of the little buggers. Hugely the opposite: whether you are a fiction or nonfiction writer, or both (like me), ideas will rain down on you like monsoon waters—you only need to stick out an empty glass to have it filled.

One of the keys to filled glasses is to Think Like a Writer, which is why I titled my latest book such. Thinking like a writer means that when you see an interesting snippet of news in a magazine article, instead of mumbling to the cat, “That’s interesting,” you go and write down a note to research it further. Writing it down is key, particularly if you’ve reached my state of age-induced somnolence. Ideas are everywhere, but they are like a puffed dandelion’s seeds, which will all blow away unless you capture them.

Wait—Was That a Falling Idea?

This past week is a perfect example of ideas falling on my noggin and me catching them while the bumps were still rising on my head. My sister-in-law was visiting, after having gone to a Mission Day event at Mission San Antonio de Padua. She casually mentioned that she saw an exhibit there from a company called Access Adventures, which provides outdoor recreational opportunities for disabled people.

They provide free “therapeutic driving events” and other special opportunities to people with restricted mobility. The company was founded by Michael Muir, great-grandson of John Muir, and a person who has lived with MS since he was an adolescent. There’s a story there, so I scribbled it down.

My Name Is 409 (and I Don’t Do Windows)

My galpal Alice and I had a little dinner party the other night. One of our guests is an old car enthusiast, as am I. He was describing how he is having the 409 engine for a ’64 Chevy Impala SS rebuilt. The guy who is rebuilding it has worked on 409s for thirty years, and nothing but. His name is Jack, but they call him “409.” There’s a story there, so I scribbled it down.

Last, I was skimming through the annual typography issue of Communication Arts magazine. It’s a beautiful design magazine, and I’ve had a mild interest in typography for years. But combine that interest with the one I have for distilled spirits and you have a story knocking: there’s an article in the issue on a design firm (with wonderful images) that designs labels for craft spirits bottles. I write about spirits now and then, and love the labels shown in the article. That’s another potential article I can drink to.

Writing Ideas Not Acted Upon = Dead Ideas

Of course, these are just article ideas. I still have to research a good publication that would be a good fit and that would pay. I have to write the query letter and get it out there. And probably get several query letters out there. Then I have to be on the lookout for new ideas. But as I’m trying to make clear: you don’t have to look that hard, as long as you keep your writer’s eyes open.

This same mechanism of idea and story association works for fiction too. Seeing a face might trigger a story idea (or perhaps more often, a story scene), or seeing a dark doorway, reading an article or having a simple conversation. Truth might be stranger than fiction, but it often provides the match to light the way of a story.

So get out there and look—and don’t get any paper cuts from picking up all those fallen ideas.

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3 thoughts on “Writing Ideas Are Spring Flowers for the Plucking

  1. An iPhone is a poor substitute for paper and pencil, I’ve discovered. I sometimes make verbal notes in my memo recorder, or send myself an email. The former is fine for remembering a snippet of song melody that comes to me, but for anything else, requires transcription I hate doing.

    Scratching on my hand-bound notebook with the raggedy cover feels more personal, which my writing could use.

    Muir’s grandson, eh? There’s a story in there. But you already said that.

    It’s the most confusing question, too. Are people suggesting they don’t have ideas? I think perhaps they’re asking how a writer knows which ideas to work with.

  2. J., I’ve read multiple pieces lately around the theme of “writing it out works better,” but none of those people have seen my handwriting. But for these article ideas, I do write the initial stuff by hand, and usually more detailed notes on article/story angle later on the electronic box.

    I do have an idea where to pitch the Muir piece, though the venue (The American Scholar) only gives me 300 words, so far, to work with for their front-of-book pieces. But a great magazine anyway.

    On that “where do you get your ideas?” thing, I’ve heard it many stuffed sandwiches of times (that means a lot), and from having dallied about on many writers’ sites, many writers have heard that question a zillion times too. Yes, WHICH idea is a much better question.

  3. Oh, forgot: There’s also that notion bandied about that you can really improve your writing by writing word-for-word works of writers you admire. Some say it must be by hand, some say you can type out the words.

    I say open your favorite book, place it over your face, and nap.

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