Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Which came first--the research or the idea? I think most writers start with the premise and then delve into researching it. I guess I've always been a bit backwards. I start with the research and actively troll for writing ideas. Let me show you how as we continue with my 4Rs for Ideas.


I know you research. I bet I know why you research.

You need information on that article about radar. You want authentic historical background for your novel about Cleopatra's slave girl. Your short story heroine collects stamps and you require accurate detail. Good writing entails research.

Why not research for ideas? Of course, idea encyclopedias don't exist. Moreover, an atlas won't lead you down the idea path. But go ahead, scour almanacs and peruse geographic tables on average annual rainfalls. Reference books certainly jump start your curiosity. But don't stop there. Engage in creative research.
Eat a bagel for breakfast? Now there is an old world food. Where did bagels originate? When? How are they made? Look it up. Fascinated by industrious ants? Wonder if they ever sleep? How long do they live? Look it up. How do candy canes get their stripes? When were umbrellas invented? Who was the youngest queen in history? What caused the Mississippi river to flow backwards? Look it up.

Idea research requires only minutes of time on the internet or as part of a routine library visit. Jot brief notes in your journal and record the source so you can delve into deeper research if you decide to develop your idea later. Curiosity may have killed the cat; but it generates ideas for writers.

Now you've seen 3 of the 4 Rs. Hope they have jump started your imagination. Only 1 R remains. Once we have reviewed all 4, test them out. Send me any writing ideas or prompts that resulted from my 4Rs and I will publish them on my blog. Details for length and format will follow the final R.


Monday, June 2, 2008


The reviews are in. I don't mean critical reviews on your latest published book. I'm talking about the interactive process that all writers engage in. With one eye on the markets and the other eye on current offerings, we review material related to our writing interests and goals. In 4Rs for Ideas, I demonstrate how reviewing helps to generate writing ideas.


I know you review. I probably know how you review.

You search market guides for age levels, rights acquired, submissions guidelines and response times. You analyze stories and books for character, plot, and POV. You study hooks, transitions, structure and dialog. You examine articles for focus, presentation, tone, and style. You review to determine what editors select for publication and to scrutinize actual published products.

Of course you do. You're a writer.

As long as you're reviewing anyway, why not also review for ideas. Be honest. Wasn't that article on rainbows and refracted light for middle graders way too dry? Wouldn't rainbows be much more fun with a garden hose and a bubble wand demonstration for curious kindergarteners? At least, that's how you would have done it. Now there's an idea.

The market guide for magazine XYZ states they accept fantasy, science fiction, mystery and adventure. You pull out your sample copy and review a story called "Prison Planet of Zinn". The story piques your interest and sends you to What If? Land. Your own characters and settings roil through your mind, different of course, and still vague. Go ahead. Put down that magazine and pick up your journal. What If? Land is a writer's best friend. Indulge.

And don't forget those how-to-write books. Another writer's revelations regarding their habits (good or bad), methods (mad or sane), and sources of ideas (tortured or inspired) always motivate me. From Strunk and White to Barbara Seuling. So review the how-to's and the thou-shalt-not's and get psyched.

Keep your writer's journal near as you review. Don't allow the tiniest glimmers of ideas, characters, plots, or article slants to slip away into oblivian. With a little practice, jotting notes to yourself as you scan or delve into your daily reading will become second nature and not even distract you. You'll be surprised how many ideas for writing opportunities will arise if you practive this, and how few ideas will slip away unnoticed.