Workshop 101 – Idea Factory

Work on Monday was solid with appointments, as is expected at the end of the semester. This is always good and bad.

A fellow MFA came in for help on a paper for a lit class (it’s a generally accepted truth that most of us MFAs struggle in our lit classes). We went over her paper, but then the discussion turned to our workshop and the ways people write. I told her I appreciated her writing for the distinct sense of passion behind it, though it was not something I would read for fun. She said back to me she appreciated mine for being polarly opposite to what she writes.

Then she said something along the lines of: “I sit there, reading your stuff, and wonder: where the **** does she get this stuff?!”

I laughed, as I think any genre writer would. Walking home from work on Monday, I asked myself: where did my ideas come from? Usually a meshing of things I’ve read before that I want to try in new ways. Then I remembered a story I wrote as a 7th grader, about a rock, who had just come out of a volcano. The title was something amazing like Volcanus Metamorphosis Ontopigus. I thought my Latin was clever or something. But while everyone else wrote on an animal, I wrote about a rock. After a little more thought, my ideas have always been fantastical (amusing, considering through high school I claimed to despise fantasy). I have a story from 3rd grade all about a unicorn. I have one from 2nd grade all about an army of talking ants who just wanted to steal a magical cake. I wrote a adventure story about a rock, people, and I was 13 at the time. Can’t blame it on a grade school imagination.

The First Novels Club wrote a post on this very thing this morning, which I found fitting. Sara, the aspiring author who wrote this post, talked about where she gets her ideas from, and that they come for her at the gym. I wanted to add to the conversation, so I thought about it, and when ideas come to me. I realized I had three main places/settings in which I get ideas.

The first: in the shower. When I’m in the shower, I can connect things. The vast majority of the time, plot holes fill in while I’m in the shower. The trick is to write them down as soon as I get out, otherwise they’re gone. This also makes for some lengthy showers.

Second: while I’m walking. I live in Orange County without a car, folks. I’m also a bit of a stubborn independent, so if my choices are taking the bus now or waiting 45 minutes for someone, I’m gonna take the stupid bus. What’s this mean? Lots of walking. Lots of time dedicated to me, my thoughts, and not getting hit by cars. If my iPod’s with me, 90% of the time I’m listening to A) an audio book from Librivox, B) the Writing Excuses podcast, or C) instrumental music. Although difficult with an audio book, all of these help me to generate ideas and keep my brain working, even if I can’t necessarily write in that moment. I admit, though, that I get great pleasure writing pages on the bus; I get nothing but the strangest of stares.

Finally, my third: in restaurants and fast food joints. As long as the noise level isn’t too high, I love grabbing a bite to eat, nursing it and my drink, and just sitting there to write. I developed this habit as an undergrad at a sort of mini Food Court just west of BYU called “The Corner.” The Corner had Asian bowls, salads, sub sandwiches, cookies, froyo, and doughnuts. I spent many a day down there eating half of a footlong (saving the other half for a brain break later) while I wrote. Some of the regular workers even took to being interested in what I was working on, be it creative pieces or my Hebrew translation homework. Since I’ve gone gluten free, this activity is more costly and sadly, not near as fun as it once was. But I still enjoy it, and two or three restaurants around here have become used to seeing me order and then still be there two hours later with a notebook open in front of me.

So, I throw it to you, my fellow writers. How, when, and where do YOU get your ideas?

Blog Comments

You got me thinking, not that I write a ton, but I get ideas on long drives, not too dissimilar from your walking. For me, though, my ideas are in direct contrast to what’s been done. I wonder how opposite I can be, ideawise, and still have it work.

While showering, while driving, while at work, or just before I fall asleep. Re: all the places I can be when I don’t have any access to a pen and paper or the ability or time to write things down.

From people. I find people fascinating, and I love to think about how everyone has a story. So I usually get my ideas from a person (real or a character that pops into my head), and want to know what there story is.

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