Where do you get your story ideas?
It’s one of those questions that makes all writers roll their eyes, because, geez, everyone asks that. All of us probably have different answers to the question, too. We draw from our own lives or pop culture or we just have a bunch of voices rattling around in our heads who talk to us sometimes (but we totally aren’t crazy).
Sometimes those ideas dry up, though.
So where does one get inspiration?
Look around you.
I was looking for something to read one night over the holidays. I’d decided that I had to start making a serious dent in the Mount To-Be-Read, which in my case is a literal stack of paperbacks, most of which I’ve picked up at conferences the last couple of years. I found a book in the stack written (and autographed!) by one of my favorite romance writers and couldn’t believe I hadn’t read it yet, so that was a good start. (The book was ANY DUCHESS WILL DO by Tessa Dare.) There’s a scene in the book that stuck with me for a few days after I put it down; I don’t want to spoil it, but suffice it to say, it’s a deeply emotionally resonant scene in which the hero finally confronts something traumatic he hasn’t let himself process and deal with. I put the book down and then went back later and reread that scene. It got to me as a reader, and I wanted to work out how, as a writer, I could evoke that same emotion in my reader. I do that sometimes. I’ll pull apart a really good book and try to work out what made it so good. What is the writer doing that gets me to have such a reaction?
I’ve been reading a lot over the last couple of weeks, more than I usually do. I was a big reader as a kid, and I still buy books like they’re going out of style, but my schedule is unrelenting at times, and I’ll go for weeks without really reading much at all. But a really good book will get my brain churning. “I want to do that!” I’ll think. I read a lot of nonfiction, too, mostly biographies and history, and those will give me ideas, too. I’ve run into obscure historical figures on whom I’d like to base characters, or settings and historical periods I’d like to explore more by writing fiction.
I spent some downtime in early January watching movies that were released over the last year or so but that I never got around to seeing. For me, inspiration from movies often comes in the form of wanting to evoke a particular feeling more than the stories themselves. But movies can be a good thing to analyze—they often have to say more with less, convincing you that two people have fallen in love or conquered their demons in less than two hours.
In THE ARTIST’S WAY, Julia Cameron recommends going on “artist’s dates,” days where you refill the creative well, so to speak. Reading or going to a movie can do this, but so can going to a museum, taking a trip out of town, or even just walking around the neighborhood. Sometimes we just get tired and tapped out and have to find ways to get our creativity back.
There are dozens of ways to do this: read books, see movies, listen to music. Maybe a lyric in a song will give you an idea. Maybe a movie will give you a feeling. Maybe seeing a piece of art will jog something. Maybe just taking a journal to the park and freewriting until you think of something clever is the way to get your mojo back. Carry a notebook around with you so that you can jot all your ideas down as they occur to you—no matter how silly. Maybe that’s just the thing when you come back to it later.
I encourage you to find ways to refill the creative well, to make your writing even better than it already is!♥
Kate McMurray is President of RWA/NYC, and an award-winning author of gay romance and an unabashed romance fan. When she’s not writing, she works as a nonfiction editor, dabbles in various crafts, and is maybe a tiny bit obsessed with baseball. She also served as President of Rainbow Romance Writers, the LGBT romance chapter of Romance Writers of America. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. Visit her at www.katemcmurray.com.