Where Do Ideas Come From?

by Sandra J. Budiansky

Is there anything better than coming up with a brilliant idea and then sitting down and writing a best seller? Probably not, but that doesn’t usually happen. Many writers struggle to come up with an interesting book topic. On October 11th, Charlesbridge editor Karen Boss presented the Writers’ Loft workshop Idea Development, and When To Let Go, and it led to a lively and inspiring conversation.

For example: What comes first? The character or the plot? Some writers may see a fully fleshed out character in their head and then think, okay, what is her story? Others may think about the story and fill in the rest as they go. Many writers have lists of future ideas because they find inspiration everywhere.

But what happens when the ideas don’t come? What do you do when it’s time to start a new project and you’re not sure what to write about? Karen shared a list she adapted from the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference blog, and we brainstormed some of our own. We discussed picture books, but these strategies can be used to apply to other types of writing.

  • Listen to the dialogue of the children around you. From the cadence of their speech patterns to the actual topics, kids themselves are fantastic unknowing sources of inspiration. I like to ask my kids open-ended questions, and then steal, I mean borrow, some of their ideas.
  • Come up with a word for every letter in the alphabet, and then pair unlike ones together and see what happens. Maybe you’ll need to freewrite to get the idea, or you might see a pair like “squishy tornado” and inspiration will strike.
  • Try cleaning out an old closet. Maybe you’ll come across some artifact from your own childhood that will bring back a memory that you can spin into a story.
  • Read, not only to learn craft but to find inspiration. For example, you could click on an article about sea turtles and be moved to dive into research about a rare sea creature you never knew existed.

As writers, we spend a lot of our time doing everything but writing because life gets in our way. So when we do have the time, it’s a good idea to have some go-to tricks for inspiration and ways to generate ideas.

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Sandy B.jpgSandra Budiansky has an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College, is an editor at Loftings, and is a longtime member of SCBWI, where she’s held numerous volunteer positions such as registrar and, most recently, the faculty travel coordinator. You can usually find her at the big center table at The Writers’ Loft.

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