Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Generating New Ideas

In the past few months, I have been focused on revising several picture book manuscripts and an in-depth rewrite of a longer chapter book. The picture books are polished and the chapter book is *almost* where it needs to be—a few more weeks, and it should be finished. Next on my list is to finish the first draft of another longer chapter book, which I have already researched, outlined, and written the opening chapters for.  

I have a lot going on writing-wise, and am enjoying every minute I get to spend working. As I focus on my longer projects, however, I like to have shorter projects to work on when I need to clean out the “mental cobwebs” before a big edit, or just to be able to come back to a longer w.i.p. with fresh eyes. But for the first time in years, I don’t have several picture book ideas floating around in my head!
I know that I am super focused right now on my longer projects, so I keep telling myself that more ideas will come…and I know they will. But in the meantime, I am looking for ways to generate ideas. Here is what I have come up with so far:

Carefully comb through old writing or “idea” files. I know that I have at least one old idea that never panned out. Maybe this will be a possibility!

Visit a library or book store and spend some time just browsing. Too often when I am at a book store, I am looking for something specific and don’t have the time to just be there.

 
Revisit favorite children’s books. What makes you love them? What did you love to read as a child?

Think about any special interests or hobbies that you have. Could any of these become a nonfiction book or provide the spark for a new story?

Search for “current needs” lists. Sometimes magazine editors, school librarians, teacher organizations, etc. will share what readers or teachers are looking for. If current needs match with your interests, then you can run with it!
Have a chat with a writing friend and bounce some ideas off each other. Sometimes just talking with a like-minded writer will bring ideas to life!

Pay attention to your dreams, and keep a notebook by your bed. Yes, like when you are sleeping. My middle grade w.i.p. began from a very vivid dream I had one night, but I didn’t have a pencil anywhere nearby so I ended up scribbling everything in eyeliner on a random piece of paper—never again will I let this happen! Stephenie Meyer shares here about a dream that proved tremendously successful for her career.  
Spend some time around children. Kids provide the best inspiration, hands down! The main character in one of my picture books was inspired by a little girl at Barnes & Noble who was wearing red cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. I overheard a little boy teasing her, saying, “Girls can’t be cowboys!” She immediately retorted, “Yes they can!” and then turned around and picked a book off the display wall and started to read. At that moment, a character was born!   

READ children’s books. Lots of them!
READ children's magazines, as well. If you do not write for children's magazines, why not give it a try? Often the process of writing articles or short stories can spark ideas for authors.
Relax, and have faith in yourself as a writer. I firmly believe that as writers, we go through seasons much like the natural world. There are times when we bloom with new ideas (spring), and then we carefully cultivate these ideas until they are thriving and strong (summer). Then we edit, polish, and submit our completed work (fall). Finally, we take a deep breath, rest, and wait for the blooming to begin again (winter). Spring is right around the corner!

This is a short list, I know, but it got my wheels turning. If you’d like to share about how you generate ideas, please comment below. Happy Writing!

19 comments:

  1. I think ideas come flowing when you have downtime, daydreaming time. I love going for walks with my dog and sitting on my back porch, enjoying the birds and squirrels and just allowing the mind to wander generates lots of ideas.

    I'll bet all your long projects have tons of ideas imbedded in them ... good luck in this new phase.

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    1. Yes--spending time in nature is another big one. Thanks so much, Vijaya!

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  2. I laughed when I read this '...so I ended up scribbling everything in eyeliner.' I remember scrambling myself once and only finding a big fat crayon. Your inspiration suggestions are wonderful, and the seasons of writing....very true. I'm ready for blooming, too!

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  3. Reading is a great way to find new ideas. That really works for me.

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  4. Just last week the kidlet and I spent an hour @ B&N. It was so nice letting him run around looking at books and playing w/their train station. I want to try and do that once a month if I can.

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    1. I used to love B&N when my boys were little--they always enjoyed the stories and the trains. It is a fun thing to do with little ones!

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  5. Great ideas, as always, Becky!

    Like you, I seem to find inspiration by going to bookstores. I take Tay to B & N and sit in their little "forest". One thing I like about that store is the way they have a lot of books out on display, so it's easy to scan them and pick up a dozen or so at a time to read (but remembering WHERE you picked them up from can be tricky when it's time to put them back :)).

    In general, I think you need to find your "inspirational spaces". For me, those are the places and/or activities where the you can slice through the stress of the everyday. In addition, I think you have to cut out a fat-apple-pie-slice of time to spend with your "inspirational space" with NO distractions, as I find it can take a while to declutter from the day's activities before anything starts flowing.

    Luckily, my favorite place happens to be right in the back yard by the outdoor fireplace, with a husky curled up at my feet. And my most "creatively productive" activity is probably trail-running. I think the combination of physical activity and nature are perfect for me. And the added bonus is that if you can start germinating an idea, it really makes the run go by a lot faster. :) As you know, I have a bad habit of calling fellow writers at the end of a run, before the ideas float off, never to be recaptured. Gardening can sometimes have the same effect.

    Finally, I am very fortunate to have my little girl. I save the quirky, funny things she says, and currently have about 400 of them in a spreadsheet. A few of those have already been turned into my very favorite children's stories!

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    1. Wonderful tips, Derick! Thank you for sharing all of your great ideas!

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  6. I noticed that a lot of my stories began while passing houses and wondering about their stories. Who had lived there? Why did they leave? Who lives there now?

    Every story teller has their own triggers.

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  7. Great idea. I love Gail Levin's book, Writing Magic. I got so many ideas from doing the exercises in that book--ideas I never would have come up with on my own. It's written for kids, teens I think, but it's a great book.

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    1. I will have to check out that book, Johnell. Thanks so much!

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  8. Getting ideas from dreams has happened to me several times and I love how vivid and mysterious they all are. You have a lot going on, Becky, and it seems like you're handling everything very well. Keep going! I certainly go through seasons of sowing and seasons of harvesting, only I can only handle one story project at a time. When I need to generate a new story idea, I fall back on the stuff that used to trouble me when I was a kid or the things I see troubling my students (fear of speaking up, given too much pressure, friendship jealousy etc.)

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    1. Thanks, Claudine. I hadn't thought about using old troubles as writing themes--that is a fabulous idea!!

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  9. That's a great list! I usually can't come up with a new idea until that rare time when my mind is completely empty and away from all computers, radios, TV, audio books, etc.

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    1. Yes--often the absence of technology can provide the *quiet* our minds mind need to generate ideas!

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