“Where do you get your ideas?”
Kids are naturally curious and I get this question a lot when I visit schools and libraries. Usually, I fumble through the answer by giving examples:
Case Files: 40 Murders & Mysteries Solved by Science
A newspaper article in a weekend edition explained how a forensic study of a single strand of Beethoven’s hair provided insights into the cause of the composer’s mysterious death. What other cases from the past has modern science solved? I wondered.
Survivors: True Death-Defying Escapes
Years ago, my wife, two young children & I wandered off a mountain trail and spent several panic-filled hours trying to find our way back. We succeeded but the experience led to questions: How do others escape life-threatening experiences? What do they do to survive?
At the Edge: True Death-Defying Escapes
In 2006, Andrew Brash, a Calgary teacher, came to town to talk about his Mount Everest climb, In his presentation, Brash described his team’s rescue of Lincoln Hall, an Australian climber given up for dead by others in Everest’s Death Zone. To rescue Hall, an act that Brash felt was the morally correct choice, he had to abandon his own climb. In Brash’s story, I found a theme: With the clock ticking, when faced with death or loss, what choices do you have? What action would you take?
Surviving the Hindenburg
I was looking for a story about a fire to include in Case Files. The Hindenburg’s tragic end came to mind, but the science behind the fire didn’t fit the theme of the book. The story of Werner Franz’s remarkable escape stuck, though. I had to know more and his story became another book.
Coop the Great
I had been thinking about writing a non-fiction book about dogs, but the plan changed when I spotted a dachshund and his owner on a hike up a steep mountain. It seemed like a monumental challenge for such a small dog. All the way, I thought about the dog and wondered how he was coping. That encounter gave birth to a story idea of a fictional dachshund who faces his own challenges and rises above them.
Usually, after a few examples, my young audience gets the drift of my answer: Ideas are everywhere. You just have to be open to finding them. Be curious. Ask questions.
It’s a pretty simple answer. But really, what is the source of inspiration? Is there a way to jump start the creative process? Why do some people have a surplus of ideas while others have difficulty coming up with one?
In his web article, Where Do Ideas Come From? Dustin Wax describes two schools of thought about where ideas originate. He calls one the “artist as antenna’. Here ideas free float waiting for someone to pick them up, the same way a radio antenna picks up signals when tuned to the proper frequency.
The second school of thought maintains that ideas are the product of hard work and concentration. For writers, it means this: Throw words on a page, think long and hard, keep your nose to the grindstone, and write, write and behold, ideas will surface.
Looking back at my own experiences, I can see both of these schools of thought at work. Simple as it might seem, the answer I give my young audiences is probably an apt one. Ideas come to those who are prepared to find them, to those who are curious, who pay attention, and keep plugging away even during dry spells when it seems hopeless.