Erika Wassall, The Jersey Farm Scribe here, on
Cultivating the Sources for Your Ideas
Ideas are precious. Whether it’s the seed for a whole new story, an idea for how to express a character’s reaction or a way to solve a transition problem you’ve been struggling with, they’re an important part of any creative process.
But who am I telling? You knew that. You’re writers and artists after all!! You know that there is little that’s more important than keeping the fresh, provocative ideas flowing.
My question is this: what do we actually do to actively cultivate our sources for ideas?
What does that really mean?
As with everything creative, it’s different for everyone. But I can talk about what I do, and I’m sure some of you can show me some new ways as well!
As a writer, I often get ideas from books I read, movies I watch, interactions I see between people around me and even dreams that I have. So for each of those categories I have found ways to not just take advantage of when the opportunity arises, but to actually create a structure where I cultivate their existence and encourage the situations to present themselves on a more consistent and integrated manner.
Movies and Books
Some of you may have read my post about how much I love Alternate Ending Exercises and fan fiction. Who hasn’t complained about a horrible ending of a movie or a book conclusion that really left you feeling unsatisfied?
One of my regular practices is to fully write out my own, more interesting endings or scene. I often think to myself, how would this end if we cut out the boring love triangle? Or how would the story change if we take the same concept, but set it in a totally different demographic, like an inner city or the middle of Wisconsin.
It’s not just the ideas and the practice that this encourages, but it helps me extrapolate new ideas for whatever I’m working on, reminds me that looking at things with a new perspective can spark an entirely different world of possibilities.
Interactions Between Others
Not only is this fun and a great way to study how people interact, but it helps me develop back-story and reminds me of the importance of the WHY in a plot.
Some of you know that sometimes one of my weaknesses is in laying out the proper motivation for the story. I talked about letting your readers in on the secrets of the world in my post on Why Does Your Story Happen?
I use people watching to remind myself of how important this is. If I see a couple fight, I create the setup that led up to this moment. It acts as a great reminder of the power of the WHY. An argument is just an argument until you really understand the emotions each person is feeling and why those particular buttons were so sensitive.
Something that at first may have seemed to be nothing more than a sarcastic dig between a couple, can become a deep gutting comment that drives her wild if it has the right tweaks of history and build up.
Did you ever wake up with this amazing idea on the tip of your brain, but moments later, it fades, the details become fuzzy and the dream itself, it seems to blur. It’s painfully close, but no matter how hard you try to pull it back into your line of sight, you know in your heart that it’s gone for good.
I can’t tell you how often this has happened to me!
So I started keeping a dream journal. And not only did I find myself remembering more of my dreams themselves, but my ideas would crystallize more easily as well.
Our subconscious is undoubtedly a part of our creativity. So why not use our sleeping hours to delve into that world. Dreams are freeing. No rules. No guidelines. It’s like the ultimate free-write, only in 3D!
My dream journal has become a major source of inspiration. Ideas I had been thinking about for days, that simply refused to come together, have become one fluid concept overnight.
Don’t get me wrong. Some of the ideas that seem so perfect and unique still fade away as I wake up. My heart still races as they slip out of reach and I still struggle to resurrect them even when I know it’s a lost cause. But many remain with me and grow into strong concepts that feed my manuscripts, my writing in general and ultimately myself as a person.
For me, I’ve learned to look at these concepts as more than practice, more than exercises. They are sources of strength for my writing and they are often a form of an end product all on their own.
Taking the time to look at where YOUR sources of creativity stem from and finding ways to cultivate them can be an ongoing resource that grows with you. Knowing your inspirations, knowing what gets your heart racing with the rush of a new concept, and keeping those motivations alive can become an important part of the process and give your writing the constant breath of life.
And your manuscripts are worth it!
Thank you Erika for another great post. We all enjoy your posts.