Doodles, CreativityThe question perhaps doesn’t have the caché of “where do babies come from” but sometimes the idea process seems as mystifying to a writer (and to others) as the baby process does to a small child.

My mother liked to quote from George MacDonald’s poem Baby: “Where did you come from, baby dear? Out of the everywhere into the here.”

It’s somewhat the same with writers’ ideas. Ideas can come from anywhere and everywhere. We need to be alert to them, and encourage them to appear.

Ideas can come when we ask “what if?” For example, “what if a boy acted up until he was sent to bed without supper?” In the right hands (and imagination) that boy might end up sailing away to Where the Wild Things Are.

For children’s writers, ideas can come when we are with kids, or when we remember something from our own childhood. They might sneak up on us as we’re reading a traditional fairy tale, and we ask “what if the little pigs were really Three Ninja Pigs?”

An amazing thing about ideas is that several writers can take the same idea and do entirely different things with it. That was illustrated vividly for me when I was in a writing workshop led by author Kate McMullan.

Kate gave our group a writing prompt and a set time to come up with a couple of paragraphs that could be the opening of a middle grade novel. Each of the eleven aspiring writers in that group came up with a totally different slant on the original prompt.

That isn’t to say we shouldn’t protect our ideas. We should. While ideas can’t be copyrighted, it’s a good practice for writers to keep their ideas close to themselves while they develop them. For example, it’s best not to post them on a blog, for everyone to see.

Still, there are times when we have to trust others to read our work and to respect our ownership of the idea and our way of fleshing it out. We need other people to read our manuscripts – critique groups, editors, eventually agents and publishers.

The feedback of those people is important in our development as writers, and we have to trust them. I want to stress that as an editor, I respect my clients’ ideas and writing. Your ideas are safe with me. I won’t share them, and I won’t use them. I have plenty of ideas of my own to work with!

Now — would you like to spend some time honing your story radar (Peter H. Reynolds’ term) and coming up with more ideas? There’s a great opportunity just around the corner for writers and illustrators of picture books: author Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo.

Every November, Tara hosts Picture Book Idea Month, a challenge to come up with 30 picture book ideas in the 30 days of November.

Each day there is a guest blog post written by a picture book author, illustrator, editor or agent. There is a wealth of knowledge contained in these posts.

There are prizes for those who are registered, and who complete the challenge with at least 30 ideas (Note: you never post your ideas anywhere – it’s done on the honor system, and each person’s idea privacy is respected.)

Take a look at the posts from this week’s Pre-PiBoIdMo, which has been going on all this week, and see if it might be right for you. Then tune up your story radar, and get ready for an idea-filled month!

Beth in script for blog

4 Replies to “Where Do Writers’ Ideas Come From?”

  1. Great shout out for PiBoldMo. What I love is revisiting these ideas during the coming year and sometimes the idea turns into a story totally different from what you originally imagined that sparked the idea in the first place. PiBoldMo is the beginning of new adventures.

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