Wednesday, June 4, 2008

looking for ideas

Where do you get your ideas?

I go through periods where ideas come forth like Old Faithful, so quickly and forcefully that I walk around with a pencil tucked behind my ear and packs of sticky notes in my pockets. At other times, I have to depend on the creativity of others to spark an idea; skimming educational publishers cataloges, looking at websites, or spending time with a stack of workbooks, hoping an idea will spring forth. Certain places are more conducive to idea-sprouting - driving my car on the interstate, walking the dog, standing in the shower, and other places where writing down fleeting ideas is nearly impossible.

Marjorie Holmes wonderful book, Writing Articles from the Heart, has many practical things to say about the "magic of getting ideas." For one thing, Marjorie Holmes is a big believer in sitting down every day and writing. Make daily writing a habit, she says often. Not a new idea, I know.

But, I think she's right. I worry and worry sometimes about not having something to write about beforehand, but once I sit down, focus, and clear my mind of the worry, ideas usually come.

I think getting ideas is much like deadheading flowers. Every summer my large perennial flower garden reminds me how important it is to tend a garden. When I snip off dead blossoms with regularity, I get to wake up each day to a front yard in bloom.

Same with writing. If I sit down, put old ideas that aren't blooming into folders, leave the queries already sent alone, pay attention to new jobs and ideas, and look though old work for the seeds of new ideas, maybe my freelance career will stay in bloom, too.

I think I lose confidence as a freelancer when I stop deadheading. I might get caught up in a good-paying job and put idea-gathering and query-sending on hold. Or, if I don't hear from any publishers for a long stretch, I can become so discouraged that I feel unable to come up with any new ideas. Sometimes I sit for a long time, waiting to hear about a possible job, forgetting the daily writing habit.

Where do you get ideas? Your family, television, books, work, the web? Are you the kind of creative person who has ideas bubbling up with regularity? Or, do you go through periods, like me, where ideas just don't seem to come? What do you do when you need an idea and it doesn't seem to come?

Happy writing -


otter said...

I must admit, I haven't experienced this lack of ideas you discuss. My problem is too many ideas and not enough time to write them all. Too many things I want to send out to publishers and it feels I can't get them sent out fast enough -- let alone get my office cleaned and organized enough to know what might be sitting in a pile soomewhere that needs attention.

Where do I get my ideas? Things I would like to have and use in a classroom that aren't available, or at least not in a format I find useful, occasionally from catalogs, I do some work-for-hire on assignment where they tell me what to write (but even then I have to come up with the creative idea part), from family and friends. I have one friend in particular, lark (a former teacher/current writer) who constantly gives me ideas--and I tell her to write them down on sticky notes! We now have an outline for a book with a working title of "Little Book of Sticky Notes" Another idea on a scrap of paper, waiting to be written. I'm envious of my sons--I need a twin--an extension of myself, who could help me get twice as much work done in the same amount of time.

hmjenck said...

Love the sticky-note idea! You sound like such a creative person who definitely needs a clone.

otter said...

At this point, I would settle for a summer (unpaid) intern. At least then the filing and routine research would get done. It sounds like you have projects going in many different directions as well -- curriculum development, test items, etc. How do you balance it all?

otter said...

Regarding creativity, here's the question: how to maintain that creative momentum when not in a classroom? (On the other hand, full time teaching can zap creative energy by the end of each day, leaving no time or energy to write.) Add to that, the scarcity / difficulty of getting a job back in the classroom. Often it feels like a catch-22. So each day I tackle what God has placed before me on my desk, and I'm trying to learn to let Him take care of the rest.