Ideas come from everything.
I came across this quote today during my lunch break while browsing blog posts and social media. A fellow graphic designer friend quoted Hitchcock in reference to getting a burst of creative energy while driving past a construction site.
I’ve often been inspired unexpectedly in strange places by uncommon circumstances. Sure, 99% of us have been inspired by a particularly brilliant sunset, vast mountain range, or moving musical arrangement. As writers, chances are our own memorable experiences, relationship highs and lows, or exotic travels have influenced the stories we craft. But are we paying enough attention to the mundane and ordinary around us? I feel it’s in the real, everyday moments we can learn to best connect with our readers.
Sure, being able to offer your reader a first-class seat on a journey to a place they may never travel on their own can only be done effectively if you’ve been there and seen, felt, smelled and heard it. Obviously, this is very important to a piece of writing. But there’s more.
You’ve noticed something. now what?
You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it. – Neil Gaiman
There’s a leak in the pipe of our bathroom’s pedestal sink. While we’re waiting on the landlord to send someone to fix it, we’ve placed a large plastic cup below the elbow of the pipe to catch any escaping water. I listen to the water dip after washing my hands. I can describe what it sounds like or comment on the annoyance.
The other night, however, listening to the incessant leak again while brushing my teeth, something dawned on me. I rinsed my mouth, placed my toothbrush in its holder, and went straight to my notepad. I’ve started making notes about how things I observe or experience might be used as metaphors in my writing.
It dawned on me that the drip of the leaky faucet is similar in mechanical dysfunction as an unspoken troublesome emotion is in relationship dysfunction. Left to collect in a stagnant pool of waste, unexpressed disappointment in a dear friend, for instance, can eventually drain the relationship, causing a rust of resentment. Now, not only do I have a sensory reference point for being able to describe firsthand a leaky pipe, I also have in my metaphor bank a great way to “show” my readers how a conflict between characters feels.
Do the Work. Make the Connection.
Ideas are like rabbits. Get a couple and learn how to handle them–and pretty soon you have a dozen. – John Steinbeck
If you don’t have a mechanism in place for collecting such observances, you’re doing yourself a disservice as a writer. Get a journal, start a new file on your computer, or keep a note going on your phone and jot possible connections between everyday observed life and people, relationships, experiences. Go somewhere with your ideas. Let them take you, your characters, your readers farther and deeper into the story.