Where Do You Find Your Ideas?

Some days ideas pop up around me like speech bubbles in a cartoon. A news item or media post might trigger a cascade of possible plot complications, a list of future blog topics, or intriguing areas for additional research. Most often my problem isn’t a lack of ideas, (read this post) but an inability to grasp them before they burst.

I find that ideas are ethereal creatures. They are harder to capture than a ghostly apparition, a woodland fairy, or a shimmering oasis in the distant desert. One moment the idea teases into conscious thought and the next it fades into my brain’s murky depths.

I thought this phenomenon might be a quirk of my poor memory, but in a recent Facebook post, NY Times Bestselling Author, Susan Mallery said,

Sometimes when I’m trying to come up with new story ideas, I listen to music. In a dark room if I can, with no distractions. But it can happen any time. There have been times when I had to pull over my car to write down the ideas that were inspired by a song I was listening to while I drove. Ideas are elusive. If I don’t write them down, they could disappear as quickly as they came, and even listening to the same song again wouldn’t bring the same idea to mind. That’s why it’s super important that I always have a pen and paper nearby. In a pinch, I can record the idea on my phone, but there’s something about the physical act of writing that makes the ideas flow differently than talking aloud.

What’s really interesting is that the idea that comes might have nothing to do with the song itself. The lyrics could be completely unrelated to the resulting book. Sometimes it’s just about the emotion. And sometimes it’s a combination of things–not just the song itself, but everything else that’s happening in my life that day, and the song just sets off a spark at the exact right moment.

It reassures me to know that I’m not alone in the struggle. (I am a member of her review crew. You can read one of my reviews here.) It seems to me the process of taming an idea involves three separate phases. First it must be captured. Second, it must be nurtured. Finally, it needs to be communicated.

Capture Your Elusive Muse

When writers are asked where they discover their ideas most of them will say anywhere and everywhere. That might not sound helpful, but I think the key is to pay attention. If you don’t notice an idea hovering, you’ll miss it. Think of the swarm of activity in your thoughts as butterflies, not mosquitoes. Don’t swat them away, be still and encourage them to land.

Ideas tend to make random, unscheduled appearances. My biggest challenge is to find a way to record and track them. Life gets busy and ideas get misplaced. (I know I had a terrific inspiration, but what was it?) If I don’t catch the initial inspiration, connections fade and the brilliant idea tarnishes. I try to keep pen and paper handy, but handwritten notes aren’t always convenient and can be impossible to organize. (Although they’re better than nothing!) As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently learned to use Evernote. It’s searchable! I can collect the ideas so many ways-screenshots, written notes, voice messages. I’m finding it to be very helpful.

Sometimes an errant idea will allow itself to be summoned when I sit down at the keyboard. The action of typing seems to sweep and gather random thoughts. If I’m lucky the thought that flashed in the shower will agreeably re-materialize into catch-able consciousness. The trick is to find the tools and method of capture that work for you and be ready when that idea appears.

Care and Training Required

How do you know if your idea is a good idea? Like the previously mentioned bubbles, I have a lot of ideas that look pretty, but pop when poked. They might be too complicated, involve too much research, or already have been used. (Yes, there is a story about a boy wizard named Harry.)

Yet, some ideas hang around and refuse to be ignored-like feral cats searching for food on the porch. I’ve learned to interpret this signal, it means I’m interested. According to William Kenower, author of Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence, if a subject intrigues you, it will find readers. He says a bestselling author is merely an author who has connected with their interested audience. (See my review here.) Trust your instincts.

Just because I’m intrigued doesn’t mean I’m ready to write. The idea often needs time to simmer in brain fluids before it’s ready for consumption. I might need to consider different angles or play with various techniques before I can coax it onto the page. Patience and flexibility are required to tame random thoughts into focused messages.

Communicate and Share

Have you ever seen a product, a plot twist, or an invention and said I could’ve done that? Guess what? You didn’t. Coming up with a raw idea isn’t the same as providing a finished product. No matter how innovative, an idea has no value until it’s implemented.

Unless your brain works differently than mine, the ideas don’t appear in polished form. They are messy, convoluted and mysterious. The swirling connections made in the brain remind me of a Rube Goldberg mechanical contraption. A marble rolls into a funnel and unto a train car which runs down a track and knocks down a series of dominoes which flip a lever that launches a balloon…you get the gist.

It takes a lot of organizing and refining to form my thoughts into something that another human being can understand. When I begin, the random thoughts are like malleable clay-possible to mold but not yet a cohesive piece. I think it’s fun to follow the logic and ask questions-what if, who would say that, how could that happen, where does this go next?

The idea might morph and twist into something different than I thought it was. Sometimes one idea is big enough for several posts. I don’t know any of this until I begin the process. That’s why it’s so important to develop your intuition and follow your instincts. The good news is I’ve found the more I write; the more ideas appear.

When is the idea ready to release? As I mentioned in a previous post, William Kenower says the writer’s goal should be to answer two questions. What did I want to say and did I say it?

So, seize your inspiration. Remain vigilant and keep your capture equipment at the ready. Don’t rush the process, allow the necessary time to nurture and encourage your ideas. Then do your work. Tame and polish them so you can share your creativity with others. I look forward to reading it.

How do you capture and tame your ideas? Share in the comments.

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