Thursday, January 20, 2011

Flypaper for Ideas

While we're on the subject of questions that come up during readings, another common one is, "Where do you get your ideas?"

The answer is that I have no idea. But when those ideas fly in from wherever they've been, I have two ways I try to capture them. The first is a Native American Dream Catcher, which I have hanging from the bookshelf over my desk. Bought it years ago on a family trip to Arizona. A somewhat more reliable method is a small, moleskin notebook. I try to keep this with me, along with a telescopic pen, whenever I'm away from the computer. The entries are rarely the stuff for full-length novels, but they often spark an idea for a scene or description. I was procrastinating this morning by flipping through my current "idea book," as my kids call it. Here are a few random entries:

- At airport, expired passport.
- Little girl on accelerating train, mimicking sound of accelerating train
- Richard Russo: "This novel is about how hard it is to shut your parents up after they're dead."
- Holes in rain boots
- Considering changing name of main character
- No longer considering it
- Wind chimes in back yard knocked off tree
- Chopin Waltz in A minor
- Lighting altar candles at St. Luke's
- My wife is in love with Clark Howard

Banal, no? But who knows: a character in some future story may have a wife who develops an obsession with a radio personality; an expired passport ruins a vacation and a relationship; a boy sets fire to a church. The point is to capture these ideas, no matter how innocuous they seem at the time. Something extraordinary can happen as you start to build on them. 

So go get your own Dream Catcher. In the meantime, though, answer me this: How do you capture those ideas for your next story/poem/novel before they fly away?

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