Where do you get your ideas for…?

All writers can relate to this question.  It is probably the number one question writers, published or not, get from the non-writers.  Sometimes, if I’m feeling snarly, I say “They had a sale at Wal*Marts last week.”  or “There’s this way cool website on the ‘Net…”  The truth is, most of the time, writers don’t know WHERE the idea came form…just that it’s there, gnawing at their brain to be written. 

Another thing that editors, agents, experienced writers, etc. say is “to write what you know”.  What does that mean exactly?  Does it mean if you never worked for NASA, you can’t ever write space operas?  If you’ve never lived in Alaska, you can’t write about that big dog sled race they run each winter?  Or is that like saying, if he hasn’t had a baby, a man can’t be a gynecologist?

I think there are several roads to this journey.  First, though a writer may not know it, ideas come from your life…from your experiences, the things you value, even the type of books you like to read.  Some of them come from the injustices you see around you or the people who inspire.  And some times they come from deep in your heart where the quiet things you treasure hide.

As for writing what you know…does that mean literally?  Especially in today’s ever-expanding, wor;d-wide, pool of information, it’s not too hard to find how to build, create, practice, fill-in-your verb research for any type of book you want.  So I think the “write what you know” is mostly the emotional.  Not all of us fear the same thing.  I may not love as you do or what you love.  An emotional response to life is as varied as species, gender, national origin or ethnicity.  And that, blended with the ideas that you start off with, gives you the story that makes the reader as with awe, “How did you ever come up with that idea?”


8 thoughts on “Where do you get your ideas for…?

  1. Great post, Mz J!!!
    LOL on the sale at “Wal-Marts.” And write what you know? I think you hit the notion in the noggin! While some research is necessary, there is no way each of us can become our characters other than vicariously.
    Thanks for a day brightener! m

  2. Jackie,

    I think its the emotion that makes a story real. Research is critical, afterall, you don’t want to lose credibility with your reader. But there are sources and resources available to get your facts straight. But a story can be factual and still leave you flat if the emotion isn’t honest. The best writers, I think, write from the heart.


  3. Jackie,

    You are so right about the ‘write what you know’ being a state of mind or emotion. If it wasn’t, we certainly wouldn’t have any Regency historicals because none of us know about that first hand.

    Good post. It got me thinking. Marilyn’s post about making your military romance believable struck a chord with me. Not everyone can have all the knowledge, but as writers, it’s up to us to research and make what we write believable and credible. Check with experts, and get second opinions. You can write a space opera even if you never worked at NASA… but if you are going to do scenes at NASA, you should have someone who’s worked there vet your stuff! spw

  4. I agree on the state of mind/emotion thing. We write about things every day that we’ve never experienced — how many of us have killed someone? Fought an attcker tooth and nail and won? Gone on the run with a handsome man and gangsters on our heels? Had sex with an alien who has all the usual equipment and then some? (Oops, that last one is Jaci Burton’s, and she’s not here with us.)

    The thing that makes us writers is that we have the ability to know how doing these things FEELS. We can put ourselves in the character’s place and know how to act and react. And we can get that across to the readers.

    Which doesn’t mean that we get to be sloppy on the facts.

    I did a novella a few years ago, set in a real town I’ve never been to. I researched it online, got a street map, found out where the mall, the hospital, downtown, etc., was. I found pictures on the Net of various buildings, historic places, etc. And after the book came out, I got a letter from a reader who said, “I lived there in the 80s. When did you live there?”

    Careful research — emphasis on careful — gets the details. You give them authenticity.

  5. Absolutely, Lynn. Without the emotion, it’s like eating popcorn with butter and salt. And trust me, I know. I can’t have either, so I’ve given up popcorn…except at movies! 🙂

  6. That’s what I did with my diving scene in my third book, Sandee. I knew what swimming in the ocean was like, but I’d never dived. So, I bought a how-to book on diving and when I finished the scene, I had a friend who does dive read it and critique. She’s the one who helped me add heat to the scene.

  7. That’s what I did, Marilyn, on a book I haven’t finished, but was set in the Aleutian Islands. I emailed the Alaska Chamber of Commerce and they sent me to several sites for info. Then my cousin Jo who lived in Alaska at the time had a friend of hers who grew up near the Aleutians available by email to answer any questions I needed. Made a HUGE difference in how I structured the book. Hmmm, wonder why I never finished the sucker. It won first place at OWFI in contemporary romance one year. I need to hunt around for it.

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