Where do you get your ideas?

Hi!  J here.  Happy Saturday to you.  I thought this would be a nice little post, coming on the heels of Casey’s ‘Break The Rules’ post yesterday. 

I finished college more than a coupla years ago, but less than a couple of decades ago.  I graduated with a BA in English Literature and a concentration in Creative Writing.  I took every Creative Writing class UConn offered and in every one the professor said, “Write about what you know.”  At the time, I didn’t want to do that.  What I knew, then, wasn’t very interesting to me and I wanted to write exciting things.  Why on earth would I write about what I knew?

Here I am ~ cough, cough ~ years later and suddenly, I get it.  A good writer should be able to find a story in anything.  Everything. 

For example: it’s 10pm and 88 degrees in my library as I type this.  No, I do not have the heat on.  It’s crazy HOT this week.  I could write about that.  Not just complain about it, but what does this kind of heat do to the psyche?  What if my characters experienced this kind of heat?  How would they react?  Especially Kayla who has barely ever left Maine in her short little life.  Might she give up and let the bad guys win the day?

Dixie & Taco Go To Grandmother's House

How about this one: my little Dixie just finished Kindergarten and I during the year, she experienced some struggles with reading.  She had 35 sight words that she had to be able to read in a sentence, spell, write, define and use in a sentence.  Tough stuff for a 6-year-old.  We practiced reading but the picture books she picked usually had some problems.  We never seemed to find all the words, mostly “and” and “the”.  It got to a point where I’d be reading a story and I’d pause at a word for her to read but she’d roll her eyes at me and guess saying, “the, the, the”.  She had 35 sight words for heaven’s sake!  I couldn’t remember them all to point them out while exhausted and reading at 8:00 at night.  If I did remember, she often freaked out and yelled that ‘this’ wasn’t one of her words.   If I asked her to read the book, sometimes she’d tell me she couldn’t see the words because the font was too small or too funky  Or the words were all over the page and she didn’t know where to go next.

So I wrote her a story that solved all those problems.  Dixie and Taco go to Grandmother’s House uses all 35 sight words somewhere in the story.  And they are in blue font instead of black.  This way, I remember to let her read them and she can’t freak out on me.  (If any of you have a 6-year-old girl, you know what I’m talking about re: the freak out.)   And the text is in a large, easy to read font, placed in a consistent spot from page to page.

I took what I knew and incorporated it into the story.  I built the story around what I knew, in fact.  Maybe I’m a little slow on the uptake, but “Write about what you know” doesn’t have to be like real life at all. 

I like to read and write adventure stories.  Fun, light-hearted, not-in-any-way-like-reality stories.  My stories should be like a movie playing in your head, where you get to star in all the good roles and cast whomever you want to play opposite you.  But that doesn’t mean that I have to make up every aspect of the story.  I steal good stuff from reality all the time, and bend it to fit where I want it.  That’s part of the fun of being a writer. 

So here’s today’s secret: Write about what you know, but not necessarily the way that you know it.  Bend it, braid it, blend it, buff it.  Make it new, not just something you knew.

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10 thoughts on “Where do you get your ideas?”

  1. I am adding Dixe and Taco to my shopping cart as soon as I get home tonight. I can’t wait to use it in my classroom!

  2. Casey and I were just talking last night about a news story from a couple of months ago. I filed it away, not knowing why I needed it, and within a few days I realized that it provided a perfect motivation (which had been a secret — even from me!) for my villain. So I’m gleefully incorporating that into the story. If we’re open and receptive, inspiration is everywhere. It’s just a matter of recognizing that little flick in the head that is telling you to wake up and pay attention. Great post, J!

  3. Jen, I am continuously astounded by your growing insight and ability to put your thoughts into words. I finally got into The Cordovan Vault and am enjoying it immensely. It does, however, amaze me that younger readers could understand and follow what to me seams like a very complicated plot. Keep at it, girl, I am rooting for you all the way.

  4. Oh, it’s a simpler plot than Harry Potter! JK Rowling proved to the world that ‘Tweens can follow many subplots and ferret out a red herring like nobody’s business. The text is on a 4th grade reading level, so I’m sure they’ll be fine. 🙂

  5. Wonderful post. Sounds familiar…same with painting. Inspiration is all around. There are a gazillion things to paint. Everywhere I look I see a painting. Painting what I see incorporates what I know through experience. Then using your wording – bending, braiding, buffing the images to fit my goals is the most wonderful part of being an artist or writer. Painting and writing has close knitted parallels.

  6. Speaking of J.K. Rowling, did you see the unauthorized Lifetime movie last week? I recorded it and watched it later as I do with most nighttime TV and even though it did mention the tough times that she went through, all in all, it was a real feel good movie. The role of the adult Joanne Rowling was well played by Poppie Montgomery and the younger actresses seemed well cast also. It’s worth seeing of you get a chance.

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