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  • Writer's pictureSusan Koehler

Collecting and Nurturing Ideas

Where do you get your ideas? Any author who’s ever visited a school has been asked this question. Everybody wants to know the answer. Really, what they want to know is this: How can I come up with ideas this good? This edition of Tips for Young Writers is all about collecting nurturing ideas.

1. Carry a notebook. I’m not talking about a big, three-ring binder. It can be something small enough to fit in your pocket. Just have a place to write those ideas down when they hit you. You might think you’ll remember them later, but trust me, you probably won’t. Whether it’s a concept for a story, a line for a poem, or even a word that seems to be standing out...carry a notebook and write it down.

2. Write every day. If you want to be good at anything, you need to practice. There’s nothing different about writing. Some days the words might flow easily, and other days you might feel like you’re wasting your time. But it’s never a waste of time if you’re serious about becoming a writer. Schedule your daily writing time, even if it’s just fifteen minutes. That kind of discipline is the difference between someone who would like to be a writer and someone who is a writer.

3. Collect snippets and pieces. Maybe you pass a street with an interesting name. Maybe you overheard a conversation, and one line stood out to you as some promising dialogue. Maybe you’re thumbing through a magazine or newspaper and you see something -- a picture, a headline, an ad, or an article – that speaks to you. If that snippet causes even a small a burst of creative energy, save it. Write it down, cut it out, snap a photo...however you are able to do it. When the right idea comes along, each snippet will be valuable.

4. Don’t let passion get in the way of the pen. I once had a writing teacher who said this a lot. You may feel very motivated by a cause or a message, but remember that you are creating art. You can have a message or theme come through in your writing, but your job is not to preach. Focus on creating beauty with your words. Allow the message to serve the words rather than the words serve the message.

5. Think like a writer. First of all, writers are readers. Read books you enjoy. As you read, think like a writer. Be aware of the choices the author makes on each page, like word choice, when to use dialogue, how to shift from one scene to the next, or point of view. Observe the details of people and places. The way a pair of eyeglasses sits crooked on someone’s face is much more interesting than the fact that they wear eyeglasses. The way the trees create long shadows in the afternoon is much more interesting than the fact that there are trees.

Keep the notebook close by and jot down those thoughts before they are lost. Look back over your notes and see what inspires you. Pretty soon, you will be developing original stories with your own voice and style. And before you know it, someone will ask you, Where do you get your ideas?

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