I worked with a bunch of students last week, and the number one question asked of me was ‘where do you get your ideas?’ It’s always the number one question.
It’s a hard question to answer, but also an important one. It’s hard to answer because the answer sounds so flippant: my ideas come from everywhere. But that’s not what I say because that’s not helpful to the writer just starting out. It’s important to give a specific, concrete answer (and I hope I did). It’s important to give beginning writers a direction, places to look. Once you start looking for ideas it’s sometimes hard to stop. But knowing where to look in the first place can be tricky.
But in truth, ideas are everywhere. After 16 years it’s not so much a matter of looking around, as letting ideas in. It’s never drawn out or complicated, it’s usually not all that obvious: A flash of a picture. A line of dialogue overheard in the grocery store. Something I catch out of the corner of my eye. Something out of place. Something that stirs.
On Saturday it happened in North Carolina. We drove to and from Florida because it just made more sense to have our car as we weren’t staying in one place. On our way home our car politely told us that an oil change was in order. And with twelve more hours of driving ahead, we wouldn’t make it home. Thanks to the handy dandy smart phone, we pulled into the Valvoline in Statesville, NC.
And there it was. Four employees in the empty Valvoline garage. All teens or just out of high school. A bright sunny Saturday. A boy lounging on the floor. Another hanging out against the wall taking in the sun. A girl drinking a soda. A fourth sweeping an area that doesn’t need sweeping. A snapshot of folks wishing they were out enjoying the day instead of working at their small town job, wishing it was busier so the day would pass quicker, wishing it was raining so it wouldn’t be so irritating to have to work on a sunny Saturday. All in an instant. A snapshot. A scene. A play. The dialogue starts to run in my head. By the end of the drive I had already figured out the framework.
The only question is, do I take this inspiration and fly, fly, fly, pushing my other work to the wayside? Or, do I let this snapshot fade a little and see what happens if I come back to it during the summer. We shall see…. we shall see….