I've been doing a number of interviews lately, and one of the most common questions I get (and all writers get) is "Where do you get your ideas?"
This seems like a straightforward question that should have a straightforward answer, but it's actually a tough one for me to answer. The most succinct answer is: EVERYWHERE.
I am an observer and a learner by nature. I have wide interests and am easily fascinated by new topics. I want to know ALL THE THINGS about ALL THE THINGS. This is currently top of mind because I've turned in my book and am in brainstorming mode for book 4 and for new series ideas since book 4 will close out the latest series.
So I've learned that as a writer, when something catches my interest, to follow that itch because there may be gold in them there hills.
My friends and family have learned not to be like "Whaaa??" when I tell them the latest book I'm reading or documentary I'm watching or class I'm taking on something random. (Right now I'm taking an online class about stand up comedy with ZERO plans to ever stand up in front of anyone and do comedy, lol.) If my brain goes, "Hmm, that seems interesting...", I trust it and follow the trail. Sometimes it leads to a dead end, and I just learn about something new and then move on. Other times, books come out of it.
Liv in The Ones Who Got Away was a photographer because a few years ago I took a photography class and found it interesting. Wes, the hero in the upcoming The One You Can't Forget is a chef because I'm a foodie, love to cook, and am obsessed with cookbooks and shows about food. And some things aren't purposeful research but are just life things that inspire something in a story. In book 3, which I just turned in, a setting was inspired by one of my kiddo's interests and something about the heroine was inspired by my husband's latest hobby.
So, if you're a writer and are looking for your next great idea, here are the things I've found that help me.
Five Ways to Feed the Idea Engine
1. Make time to live your life.
This is one I have to remind myself about regularly. The temptation is to always be writing. Our brain knows the urgent words to whisper to us: When you finish one book, jump right into the next one. We need to make a living. There are deadlines. Readers (hopefully) want more right now. Go! Go! Go! BUT if all you're doing is writing all the time and you're not taking time to refresh and experience other things--go places, see people, learn about non-writing things, read for fun--then you run the risk of your inspiration well running dry or your ideas becoming stale. The well MUST be refilled. Writing a book takes all of your mental fuel. You have to replenish it. Plus, you'll inevitably get ideas while you're out, you know, being a functioning human in the world.
2. Read widely and outside of your genre and comfort zone.
I am a huge believer in this. I love romance. It is my FAVORITE. However, I know that if I only read within my own genre or subgenre, I'm going to start sounding like everyone else. My ideas are going to be copycats of what's already out there (or copies of my previous works.) You know you've seen it happen as a reader, when a favorite author's books all start sounding a little bit the same. I don't want that to happen. So I challenge myself every year to read all over the place. If you look at my Read list on Goodreads, you can see it's a big mix of all kinds of stuff. And this is my current reading goal for this year:
But I credit that wide reading for giving me ideas like--hey, what if a school shooting was the backstory in a romance series, and I could show survivors years later on their journey to healing and finding their happy endings? Believe me, almost everyone I told about this thought it could be a disastrous idea because how can you work that into a romance? But the idea and concept were powerful in my head, and I found an editor and publisher who believed in the idea as much as I did. To date, I think it's my strongest reviewed book and has gotten more media coverage than any other book I've written--because it's different and it's (unfortunately) timely, which I had no way of predicting when I was writing it in 2016. So read a lot of different genres and voices. You never know what mix of inspiration will come together for an original idea (or a new spin on an old idea.)
3. Be a constant student.
Learn about the things that interest you. As writers in this day and age, we literally have everything at our fingertips. Videos and blogs and podcasts and online classes. Not to mention, good old fashioned non-fiction books. It's all out there. Find what sparks your interest and then chase that bunny trail. Your next book idea could be buried in there. Right now in my TBR stack of non-fiction I have a chef memoir, a book about the neuroscience of violence, Bruce Springsteen's memoir, a few true crime books, a book about pig farming, and one on the history of improv. Yes, it's a weird mix, but that's what makes it so great for idea generating.
4. Make time for movies and television.
Don't believe what they say. It's not bad for our brains. ;) I have to remind myself to actually do this because it can feel like--well, there's probably something more productive I could be doing. But there is something different about watching stories unfold on the screen. It's easier to see the beats and the way the writer structured the story. Watching TV and movies can be great inspiration (with the bonus of giving you some downtime!) It doesn't have to be all fictional shows. Documentaries are great, too. It also doesn't all have to be "high-brow." Ideas come from everywhere. Watch the things that catch your interest.
5. Write your ideas down, even the barest hint of them, when they come to you.
This one probably seems obvious but how many times have you gotten an idea, convinced yourself you'll remember it later, and then boom, it's gone? Ideas whisper first sometimes. Don't let them get away. So come up with your method of grabbing them. Even though I'm a lover of all things paper, I use the most convenient method for idea capturing. I email myself using the Pensieve app (which is the best thing ever because you don't have to type in email addresses and go through all the steps. You simply type your idea in the box that pops up and it automatically emails it to your account, making your note the subject line.) I highly recommend it.
So those are my top tips and the advice I'm taking myself right now because it's brainstorming time. I love this part of the process. This is the fun part, y'all. Go find that inspiration!