Madeleine L’Engle is one of my heroes. I love the story she once told about ideas for writing.
The most asked question that I generally receive is, “Where do you get your ideas?” That’s very easily answered. I tell a story about Johann Sebastian Bach when he was an old man. A student asked him, “Papa Bach, where do you get the ideas for all of these melodies?” And the old man said, “Why, when I get up in the morning, it’s all I can do not to trip over them.” And that’s how ideas are; they’re just everywhere.
I agree with both Madeleine and Bach. Ideas are everywhere, but keeping track of those ideas is sometimes tricky. I may have three good ideas while driving and two more while I am stirring up dinner, or cleaning a toilet (not at the same time of course). When I sit down to write those ideas have often evaporated.
To help me keep track of ideas, I use a small notebook, one that’s easy to carry and fits in my purse. I use little sticky tabs to create sections. The back page is always for books I want to read or movies I want to watch. It keeps me from wandering around the library aimlessly, or staring blankly at a list of unfamiliar movies.
The front of the notebook is for book ideas. Usually they are one liners describing a topic that I’d like to develop into a book.
Inside the notebook are tabs for other kinds of ideas. Sometimes when I write a story I am stuck for just the right name, so it helps to keep a list of interesting names to draw from.
I have a section of first lines. Sometimes an entire story can be developed from just the write first line. One of the first lines in my idea book is “She was my best friend and my worst enemy.” Someday that will be the beginning of a book.
I love playing with words. Some words are just delightful. I like keeping a list of interesting words that are begging to be noticed. It’s fun just to look over this list and get the creative juices flowing.
The funny thing is that I don’t always have to look in my book to get creative. Just writing them down often anchors them in my memory. And also it keeps me from tripping over them when I get up in the morning.