Seven buses on the highway

As a writer, I’m always being asked where I get my ideas. Mostly at parties. People always manage to come up with this polite, bland question just before their eyes glaze over. “Oh, you’re a writer?” At least it’s better than “Have I read anything you’ve written?” No idea, dudebro. Tell me everything you’ve ever read.

“Where do you get your ideas?” Professional writers get access to a website with idea topics. You have to be vigilant, though, and keep checking it because the best ones get snatched up quickly. “Really?” No, but I do have a nice bridge in Brooklyn if you’re in the market.

Like most writers, I keep a file of interesting things I run across. Articles, Pinterest posts, places I want to visit, any of these can spark a story idea. As I’m writing this, I’m traveling from NC to IN for my niece’s wedding. (Don’t worry: I’m passenging, not driving.) We saw a convoy of seven charter buses. As we passed each one, we noticed they were empty. No passengers.

Why? Where did these buses come from and what happened to all the people? We discussed several possibilities, most of which were logical and boring. But the idea is going in the file. The stories I’m currently writing don’t lend themselves to an appearance of tour buses, so it will just live in the file with the missing notary stamp idea, the £45,000 worth of stolen sex toys, and the mechanical caterpillar. Well, that one might find a home soon.

I also carry around a notebook. If I see an interesting person, overhear some juicy gossip, or bear the brunt of some mutton-dressed-as-lamb’s rudeness, it goes in the notebook. These might not generate story ideas, but they’re great for fleshing out characters.  Next time I need a bitch, I know just what she’ll look like.

My upcoming book, A Kiss for Luck, started with an idea that simmered on the back burner for two years. (More on the book soon.) I knew I wanted to tell the story of a woman who goes to Italy for the first time, to fulfill a life-long dream. I approached it from several different angles, but nothing clicked. In the meantime, I wrote other things, including two short stories starring a charming jewel thief and con artist named Jules Brand. There was no light bulb that went on over my head. No dash from the bathtub shouting “Eureka!” No drama that I could relate to people at parties when the question comes up.

The idea was just… there. A woman goes to Italy to fulfill a life-long dream, only to find herself the target of a con artist and hunted by another of the con man’s victims. Boom. Done.

 

An idea folder is like a recycling bin. Things go in, get added to or torn apart, and reused. Sites like Pinterest or Dribbble and apps like Pocket or Evernote are great for storing ideas. Spend some time collecting ideas, ready to be pulled out whenever needed. It’s well worth it. Unless, of course, you have access to that exclusive site for professional writers.

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