Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Where Do Ideas Come From?

As an author who speaks at schools and libraries, the question I get asked most often – besides “How old are you?” or “How much money do you make?” – is “Where do you get your ideas from?”

I don’t have an easy answer, like “I buy them at the Idea Store,” or “I have an idea tree in my backyard,” or “I belong to the “Idea of the Month” club.” I wish there were. But the truth is, writers are like anyone else. We have to work to come up with ideas. There’s no magic formula, no top-secret stash of ideas that only writers have access to, no place we can call to order an idea much like we would a pizza. Or, if there is, no one’s told me about it.

So, what do I tell these inquiring minds? I tell them that ideas are everywhere. Writers don’t have a corner on the idea market. Anyone can have an idea. They’re free for the taking, if you know where – and how – to look for them. The supply is unlimited.

Different authors get their ideas in different ways. I’m going to share two of my personal favorites. They’re simple enough for anyone to use, from a student wondering what to write about to the parent of a student who is still wondering what to write about the night before the assignment is due. Teachers can utilize them in their classrooms, or at home, when they’re working on their own writing.

The first way I come up with an idea is something I call the“what if?” method. I’ve used this for several of my picture books, including my newest one, What REALLY Happened to Humpty?. I started out by asking myself, “What if Humpty Dumpty didn’t fall off the Wall by accident? What if he was pushed?”

Another “What if?” came in response to one of my sons asking how his grandmother knew so much. I told him, “Maybe she went to school. A school just for grandmas.” So, what if there were a school where grandmas went to learn about all those things modern grandparents need to know, from how to change a disposable diaper to how to surf the Internet? That idea was the basis of my book, Grandma U.

The second way I come up with an idea is to let my mind “wonder.” This is especially useful for brainstorming topics for non-fiction. I might wonder why dogs wag their tails, or wonder what it’s like to be a skydiving instructor, or wonder what it’s like to be a kid in the White House. (My husband says I’m just nosey. I prefer the term “curious.”)

Asking a lot of questions is my answer to where I get my ideas. As for how old I am and how much money I make, those questions will just have to remain a mystery.

Jeanie Franz Ransom is an author and speaker who lives near St. Louis, Missouri. What REALLY Happened to Humpty? is her fifth picture book. You can find out more by visiting her website: www.jeanieransom.com

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