mabfan (Michael A. Burstein) (mabfan) wrote,
mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)

Robert's Rules of Writing #5: Call Out the Thought Police

[Rule quoted from Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello (Writer's Digest Books, 2005). See my original post for the rules of this discussion.]

Masello's fifth rule focuses on that eternal questions writers always hear: "Where do you get your ideas?" He gives the usual answer most of us do -- the store on the corner of Lexington and Twenty-Third. ("But go early, because the fresh ideas are gone by ten.")

Come to think of it, that store is probably a branch of the main operation, based in Schenectady. And then there's the weekly magazine, The Idea Book, that arrives every Monday, chock full of story ideas. Once you've selected the idea you want to use, you just have to register with them over their webpage so no one else will take it that month. (You used to have to call in.) And then --

No, I'm just kidding of course, as was Masello. His advice is that the best ideas come from your own head, but that you need to pay attention to what's going on in there. Basically, he says that instead of sitting at your computer, pressing hard for ideas to come, you should be more observant of your thoughts as you go through your daily routine. Pay attention to those idle thoughts that pass through your head, as some of your best ideas are sitting right there.

I know whereof he speaks. I got the idea for my first story, "TeleAbsence," at a science fiction convention panel in 1994, when a fellow panelist claimed that by the year 2000 everyone would have an email address, and I wanted to prove him wrong. The idea for my first unpublished novel came from an off-hand question one of my students asked during a Physics class; I stopped teaching, stared into space for a moment, and then wrote down the idea. Other ideas have come from newspaper or magazine articles I was reading, or from discussions with friends, or even from reading other writers' short stories and realizing I could do something different with the ideas presented.

And that's the funny thing. It's never writers who ask where ideas come from. Those of us who write know what Masello and others have made explicit -- that ideas are everywhere, and you just have to keep your mind in an open state, ready to snatch the idea before it dissipates. But readers -- ah, they see what we do as magic, and in a way, it is. We take nothing out of the air, and make it into stories, which can move people to laughter or tears, depending on what we say.

So tell me -- where do you get your ideas?
Tags: personal, roberts-rules, writing-advice
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