Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Where I Get My Ideas

by Nina Wright

Since the premier of my very first play, I continue to be thrilled whenever readers or audience members care enough to ask where I find my ideas. It's a question I always answer honestly; however, the reply that I long to make is a variation on one I heard a bestselling writer give on late-night TV. When asked where he got his ideas, the celebrity novelist replied, "Dubuque." After the laugh, he went on to say that he’d never been to Dubuque, but he figured it was as good a place as any to shop for inspiration.

I’d like to say my ideas come from . . . Cincinnati.

And not just because it sounds funny. Newly divorced in my 20s, I had moved to Cinci to take what would be my first corporate job when I realized that I was never going to be happy wearing a suit every day. That shouldn’t have been a stunning revelation since I had already worked five years in professional theatre; however, the big Three-Oh wasn't far away. Time to get serious about earning a steady income. Alas, selling bulk orders of Crisco shortening for Procter and Gamble was not my career destiny, despite the tempting health and retirement benefits.

So it was in Cincinnati, during an existential crisis, that I faced my personal truth: no matter what the cost, I wanted to walk through life as a Writer.

I look back on my brief time in the Queen City as the start of a long and winding road paved with corporate failure and creative fodder. I wish I could say (on a late-night TV talk show promoting my first bestseller) that I found a blockbuster idea in a bowl of Skyline chili, but of course that didn't happen. No, the answers I stumbled on in Cincinnati led me to grad school, restaurant work, more grad school, more theatre work, assorted teaching jobs, lots of freelance writing gigs, a sideline biz renovating homes, lots of elder care, and a costly school-of-hard-knocks general education before I ever got my first novel published.

So . . . where do I get my ideas?

Honest answer: Finding ideas is the easy part—the easiest part—of the whole creative process. Inspiration is literally everywhere, especially if you listen more than you talk. People are always telling their stories, asking their questions, whining their complaints. All you have to do is pay attention. You don’t even have to wait around long enough to hear the ending. In fact, I recommend that you don’t. Walk away while they’re still talking and go write the rest of the story. It’s yours now. Let the magic begin.


Mark Terry said...

For me I have too damn many ideas. It's finding the good ones, the commercial ones, or the ones that are good for me that's the problem.

Nina Wright said...

Mark--I understand and have frequently encountered the Epiphanot that Susan wrote of yesterday. But the more I write and read, the better I seem to get at sorting out which notions are worth my while. If they interest me more than, say, my favorite foods, that's usually a good first sign. From there I just need to figure out how to keep twisting the screws on my protagonist in ways nobody--not even I--can see coming. Yup, that's all it takes. That and about 85,000 precisely chosen words....


Joe Moore said...


Your post is similar to Susan's so I guess the topic is on a lot of people's minds. Since you probably didn't buy into my Great Idea of the Month Club yesterday, here's the real scoop.

Because I co-write with Lynn, we sometimes have twice the number of ideas to consider. Lynn is always sending me a link with a "check this out" message. She is really the big idea half of the team and I'm more the "OK, so then, what if" side of the equation. All our books grew from one of her original concepts that she found on the Internet or in a publication somewhere.

Once we have an idea that excites us, we just start bouncing it back and forth like a tennis match until we feel we can sustain it for 100k words. The biggest challenge we or any writer faces is to preserve that original spark of excitement we felt the first time we hear the idea. It's so easy to lose is somewhere along the way by over-writing.


Mark Terry said...

Ah-ha! So now we know. We all need to get our ideas from Lynn Sholes.

I've got MY answer for when I'm on a TV program promoting my bestselling novel!

[Actually, I've always liked Joe Konrath's answer: "I get them from Patricia Cornwall's garbage cans; no, I'm just kidding. I get them from James Patterson's garbage can."]

Andrea B. said...

I like the idea of "walking away" before you hear somebody else's ending in order to finish the story YOUR way. That's how fiction is born. Good post, Nina.

BTW, just finished reading my W&T ARC. Love it!!!!


Julia Buckley said...

I find it's more convenient to have my ideas shipped to me monthly. :)

Nina, did you like Cinncinnati?

Nina Wright said...

Hi, Julia. You asked if I liked Cinci. I lived there quite a long time ago, and as you might surmise from what I wrote, during an unhappy period, but I did think the city was cooler than any other in Ohio. That might not sound like stirring praise; however, I'm a native Buckeye, and I remember saying to friends back in my hometown, "Cinci doesn't feel like it belongs in this state!" I really liked the downtown, Eden Park, the Playhouse, Mt. Adams, etc.

Have you lived there? BTW, love your blog. Take care!

Coming this spring:
WHISKEY and TONIC by Nina Wright. Real estate, murder, and one bad dog.
www.ninawright.net www.whiskeymattimoe.blogspot.com