Sunday, 12 April 2009


It is the question I am most often asked. Where do I get my ideas from? And the short answer is - I don't know!

That's not a lot of help is it? But obviously ideas come from somewhere, so . . .

In my last year at primary school I had a wonderful teacher called Mr Wallace. He used to have a box full of ideas. We would take something from the box and that would be our idea for the lesson. Once I pulled out a card on which was written "Find out and write about Socrates."

Ugh, I thought, but actually I enjoyed finding out about him and I remember illustrating my piece with a picture of a man with a sad face wearing a long robe and holding a goblet of poison in his hand. He had a skinny beard in my picture too if I remember correctly. Okay I didn't have to invent anything for that piece, but my creative input was the picture.

Another time I pulled a picture from the box. It was of a busy street. I had to write a story about it. In the end my story involved a helicopter and a large field, but I've no idea how I got there from the busy street. I think I decided that one of the many people in the street was on the run.

My best friend pulled a picture of a couple of old ladies from the same box. She named one of the old ladies Agnes and turned her into a murderer. I remember wishing enviously that I'd pulled that picture from the box when I read her story, but it wasn't the picture, it was her imagination that made her story so good.

If I'm stuck for ideas, which I often am, I sometimes look at a picture and try to write a story about it. Occasionally the ideas just come. I was reading a Woman's Weekly and a single word thrust itself out at me from the page. No, honestly it did - it leapt right off the page and poked me in the eye.

Oh, all right it didn't. But there was something about the word. An ordinary word. Jumper.

It referred to a garment, but that word stuck itself into my brain and finally formed a story.

You can sit all day at a railway station eavesdropping on conversations (not that I do of course - I don't have time) and come away with nothing, but you can pass someone in the street and catch a couple of words and have a complete story.

Then there are the dream stories when you have a dream and it presents you with a fully formed story, or at least an idea for one. Memories - we all have those. So where do ideas come from? Well I still don't know. They're just there!


  1. Where do ideas come from?

    Last week I was late for a meeting in a large unfamiliar city. Very stressed, after several attempts of trying to park the car in a busy area, I ended up jogging towards the venue.

    I passed two teenage lads at a bus stop and caught one line of dialogue in probaly the two seconds it took me to get by them.

    "Is tomorrow cancelled then?"

    Incredible as it sounds, a story idea flashed through my mind and I knew I had to jot down what I'd heard as soon as I found a pen.

    A story was already unfolding before me. When I got home much later that evening I opened a Word document, and began putting down the first draft.

    I agree pictures tell stories too, and different people read different things into what they see. I think its a good exercise sometimes to force yourself to make something from nothing.

    A writing buddy and myself often take it in turn to pick a subject, we then have fifteen minutes to research it over the Internet. After which we get down to the business of writing as much as we can for an hour...

    It's amazing what has been produced. He's a poet and short story writer, I'm into short stories and I am writing a novella. We rarely come up with anything remotely the same.

    We email our work to each other after the hour is up for critique and comment. Topics covered so far have included jukeboxes, socks, Polar bears and real ale to name but a few!

    We've produced some fun stuff and he has even won several national poetry competitions.

    As all the books tell you, ideas are everywhere if you take the time to look and listen out for them.

    Good to hear how you get yours...

  2. It’s always great to get a story like that, unexpectedly and out of the blue especially when it starts to work itself out (with help from you of course!)

    And that’s another great positive about being a writer – you were late for the meeting, stressed and yet your brain was working on a creative level. You sound like a natural born writer to me!

    The way your writing buddy and you work together sounds fun – and writing should be fun shouldn’t it?

  3. Oh absolutely…I couldn’t agree with you more. The day writing isn’t fun, is the day to put down the pen. I can’t imagine that happening, it’s too hideous to contemplate!

    I know a lot of people do write in total isolation, finding ideas for themselves etc but I like to get out amongst like minded individuals. Sometimes, you meet a real gem along the way, and yes, I have met characters I’d struggle to classify, however meeting people and listening to their stories is also part of being a writer don’t you think?

    Being curious about characters and situation is something I do automatically. Awful to admit but I do tend to interrogate folk without them realising! I know the “real” world thinks I’m totally nuts, but then I do think there is some madness in all the writers’ I’ve met along the way. We do live inside our own heads a lot.

    There are so many benefits to having someone else look over your manuscript, providing you aren’t too precious. I’m not, I see it as the way to learn and develop, I admire writers of different genres, and I find it fascinating how they bring story lines and plots together.

    I do consider myself lucky to have some writing buddies I can trust with my work, but also I thoroughly enjoy the camaraderie when we meet up at conferences and workshops. Often we end up around a table with food and beverages and that’s where a lot of the most constructive advice is learnt in my humble opinion.

  4. "We do live inside our own heads a lot," I couldn't agree more.

    And you are so right about not being precious about our work.

    You have a very healthy attitude!