One of the most hilariously frustrating questions to get asked as a writer is where and how you come up with the ideas for your stories. The answer “I don’t know, about eleven million different places, marinated and shaken just the right way” doesn’t usually work for people, no matter how true it might be.
But for the vast majority of the time, that’s how things work in my brain. At least, that’s what I’ve figured out by now. Complete story ideas and inspiration are two different things entirely. Very rarely do ideas just show up in my brain fully formed, ready to be written.
However, it’s a legitimate question, which requires some sort of reasonable explanation- how DO I get my ideas? At first glance, I couldn't figure out how to explain where my ideas came from, my head not really being a helpful answer to anyone who isn't me.
Second glance, I've come to the realization that since I seem to get my ideas from everywhere, that isn't too specific and therefore not entirely helpful either.
However, before you roll your eyes and stomp away from my very unhelpful post, I’ll tell you about one of the tools I use that has completely changed the way I brainstorm.
Pinterest? You may ask. You mean that wonderful time suck that I pin all sorts of fabulous crafty projects that I probably won’t be making ever and are just there to guilt me about the fact that I’m not the perfect women?
You are using Pinterest in ALL the wrong ways.
Okay, so I also pin crafty things and dream house things and ideas for my classroom. But I mainly use Pinterest for finding and storing ideas for future books.
I approach the pictures on Pinterest the same way I approach people watching. First you just scan what's there. Who's there. Someone or something is going to catch your attention at some point. At this point on Pinterest, I'll pin it- usually to the board I have called Ideas. (I know. I'm super original.)
Then, of course, comes the questions to ask about the person or thing. What is it? Why is it there? How did it/he/she get there? Where are they going? And so on and so forth, until suddenly you have the beginnings of a story.
There are a few different ways for you to search through Pinterest- you can search on your main dashboard where all the things pinned by the people you follow will show up. You can also use the search feature, and either type in a specific keyword, or scan through categories- everything from Geek to Travel to Women’s Fashion. If you don’t have anything in specific you’re looking for, the Popular category is a mishmash of everything.
Sometimes all it takes is one picture for an idea to form. Sometimes it's a few pictures.
I’m going to be honest with you: Pinterest is a dangerous place- once you get there, it’s not always easy to get back out. Self-control is definitely needed for it. But fear not- you can find inspiration quite easily without Pinterest.
- Swap pictures with a friend, but someone whose family you don't really know so well. Have them send you a picture- any picture- to get your creative juices flowing.
- Pick up a foreign newspaper, and look at the pictures there. You have no idea what anything means, so you just have to decide that by yourself.
- Check out photographer’s websites, and think up the backstory of the people photographed.
Or you can play the connect the dots game, and outsource this one a bit as well. This is also a fun writer’s group activity if all of you are looking for ideas.
If doing this with a writer’s group, everyone should bring in one picture that intrigues them- whatever kind of picture they want. No limits (unless you specifically want to set them, though I don't recommend it). If you're meeting in person, print enough copies so that everyone can have one for themselves. If you're emailing, email a copy to everyone.
If you’re doing it as a solitary activity, ask five of your friends to send you one picture they love, but without any descriptions or explanations as to why they love it.
The objective of the activity is for you to take the pictures you have and find out how and why they're connected. What's so incredible about this exercise is no two people will have the same story, even though you're all using the same pictures.
Man, creativity is so cool :)
Bonus: I've picked five random pictures from my Pinterest boards to jump start your creativity.
Happy pinning, happy plotting, and happy writing!