Where do writers get their ideas?

The acropolis

The acropolis

This is such a bizarre question to most scribblers and it crops up in virtually every interview. Regardless of success and reach, we get our ideas by living and listening, watching and taking notes, thinking up outlandish ideas and making them into something believable.

Anything and everything is potential fodder for the ink in our pens.

Tolteca statues

Toltec statues

If you’ve been around much, you’ll be familiar with my predilection for prehistory. I’ve been fortunate to have visited, worked in, or been involved with the preservation of many unique sites.

Most people are easily impressed by monumental architecture like the acropolis and exquisite stone statues of the Toltec, as well we should be. But there is much to appreciate in more humble settings. In fact sometimes the smaller locales make us feel more connected to the ancient peoples who lived before us because we relate more readily to living in a house rather than a castle and having neighbors right next door rather than acres of manicured estate.

empty land

Empty landscapes are appealing.

The majority of prehistoric sites are located in environmental niches that provided the essential necessities of life like water sources and access to hunting and foraging. Good places to occupy get re-used over centuries, people know a good thing when they’ve found it.

A while back, while attending a writing workshop, a critique partner asked me why anyone would work in such lonely and isolated places. The intonation in her voice and the expression on her face indicated a degree of disbelief that any individual would prefer such solitude to the hustle and bustle of modern metropolitan life.

whaaatI was stymied for an immediate response. My initial reaction was a snarky (albeit silent) comment – how could anyone pass up the opportunity?

Then I gave myself an internal slap across the face and shrugged. Living and working in isolation, stumbling around rough terrain, getting sunburned and wind-whipped, collecting odd bits and pieces of people and history in an attempt to fit together a puzzle of immense and unknown proportions…well, it isn’t for everyone, thankfully. Think about it though, there’s a reason we all read and write mystery novels.

magnifying glass

Carved rune stone from Sweden

Carved rune stone from Sweden.

Delving into the past gets in the blood, perhaps it’s wedged inside our very DNA. There may not be many of us but we gravitate together over time. We bump into one another at the tops of mountains, pass each other on trails that lead deep into the crevasses of fjords, and set up camp in close proximity beside the shallow remains of alluvial lakes. Empty spaces attract us. We listen to the landscape. We follow clues that lead us down paths other never see. Lonely places are where we connect. And if there’s a place on the planet where the veil between past and present grows thin, I believe it is in the sites where ancient people lived, places where we are still drawn.

Like any writer, I infuse my stories with the things that matter to me. I build characters based on the ideas I have and the people I’ve met. The plots and events are constructed out of the debitage of my professional work and personal life, spun from mundane events into something more imaginative. A name from a signpost, a temperament or character attribute from a chance meeting with a stranger at a gas station, it all matters.

Eureka!Books transport us to other times and places. We all have stories in our lives – have you thought about sharing one of yours? Since we don’t all find comfort in the same parts of the world, perhaps you can open a window into a place I’ve never experienced. I’d like that, wouldn’t you?

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  1. #1 by Matthew Wright on December 25, 2012 - 12:26 pm

    Writing by definition is a solo activity; it attracts, I suspect, people who are more comfortable with solitude than not. For myself, I often find that ideas float in unasked when I get a chance to contemplate, often while walking on my own – a double benefit; exercise and time to think. Places, too, give inspiration. It’s all part of the mix of being a writer. Different for everyone, of course.

    • #2 by Leslie Berry/ @LesannBerry on December 27, 2012 - 9:08 am

      So true, what you said. Walking, gardening, anything that allows your body to engage and mind do something else seems to be a productive outlet for ideas. Some of the more clever or fun things I’ve written have resulted from being involved in dual activities. It would be fun to put together one of those blog-chain-posts that asks about how writers best produce work…and show a picture of their workspace. I always find it interesting to see how neat or messy other writers are. =)

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