A Writer’s Mind… or Where do you get your ideas? (I know. Sorry!)

Work – in the form of my position as conference coordinator for the Surrey International Writers’ Conference – has been nuts, and is likely to stay that way until after the conference in October. I knew that would happen, but in a bid to at least keep a little piece of my head churning away on the book, for when I get back to it, I thought I’d talk a little about writing. Seems like I’ve encountered a bunch of people lately who don’t get the writing thing, and would like to. Some of them pop by here occasionally. So, with apologies to all my writer buddies for whom this won’t be anything new, I thought I’d start with a peek at the question I’ve had no fewer than six times this week, the one all writers cringe to hear: “where do you get your ideas?”

Writers are an odd, nosy breed of humans, sponge-like in their absorption of the world around them. I’ve yet to meet one who doesn’t mine every experience, every person met, every trip to the ER and every beautifully presented meal, every glorious view and every bug-ridden hotel room… everything… for what it can offer his or her writing. We all do it. Any writer who tells you she doesn’t is lying. Of course, we lie for a living, so you never know…. I’ve often heard it described along the lines of having a tiny part of our conscious mind that thinks “So this is what it feels like to…” no matter what the experience may be, whether it’s a hot air balloon ride or an emergency root canal. With the details, of course, carefully tucked away to be brought out later, someday, in some bit of prose somewhere. That’s not to say we’re not present in the moment, living our lives like everyone else, because we are. But it all fills the research well, too.

“Where do you get your ideas” has to be the most common question non-writers ask writers, and I know they get frustrated when we say “everywhere”. But it’s true. I think it’s just a matter of how the writer mind works. We see stories everywhere. Sometimes whole novels pop into being out of nothing more than a couple, seen from a distance, parting, their hands reluctant to let go until that last instant when the space between them exceeds their collective reach.

So, to do this job, we have to truly see the world around us. Not only feel what we feel, but catalogue the feelings, remember the good and the bad so that we can write honestly about whatever we’re writing about. Because joy is joy, whether or not you’ve ever had the same experience as your characters. If you know joy, if you’ve paid attention to what it feels like and what it looks like when others have it, you’ll know how your character feels in that moment, experiencing something joyful you’ve never even dreamed of trying yourself. Same goes for sadness and anger and fear. You get the idea. So no, I’ve never watched in my rear view mirror to see if my blind date was still following me, like the main character in my first novel does. But I have driven down creepy streets in the dark, making sure the doors were locked and carefully checking my mirrors and even the back seat for imagined invaders. So I apply that feeling, and others like it, and I know how Jane feels.

So that’s a start… next time I’ll tell you a bit about my current WIP.


  1. camille
    Sep 10, 2010

    I agree…ideas are everywhere. One other thing I thought of was (and maybe this is just my weird mind) but I often find I am so busy looking at the unusual or focusing on something that I am oblivious to the obvious–LOL! That’d be a good book title! Titles and phrases, sometimes single words are often a story spark for me and as I do research (whether in books or actually visiting places) I often can imagine entire lives of characters, including strong feelings and motivation—yup, if I was in Star trek I would have been an empath LOL

    • Kathy
      Sep 10, 2010

      I think a lot of writers would be empaths on Star Trek, Camille. :) Of course, we might also walk around bumping into walls because we’re stuck in our own heads. Even the automatic doors couldn’t stop us from doing that. Oh, and lamenting the lack of alcohol in the replicated wine, too…

  2. Deb
    Sep 10, 2010

    LOL. I was just musing over this a few days ago because a new novel idea popped in my head and when I started fleshing it out, I had to ask myself: Where does this stuff come from?

    It started with an image in my head of a woman waiting in a life boat (or similar type boat) waiting for another to pass so she could knock her unconscious, strip her, and assume her identity. That vision bloomed one night as I was drifting to sleep a week ago yesterday; the next day, Friday, I sat down to see where the image would lead. Well, to my surprise, it led to 50 pages and characters/setting that I’d never considered before. I don’t even like the ocean. Or sailing. Though I am learning lots of interesting knew things as I research it. :)

    And like you, I drive with doors locked. And I can’t pass an abandoned car on the side of the road without wondering WHY it’s abandoned, or if there’s a body in the trunk. *g*

    Take care,

    • Kathy
      Sep 12, 2010

      Oooh, a brand new book idea, Deb. Congrats! Off to a great start with the 50 pages. Keep going!


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