Where Do Ideas Come From?

I think one of the questions you get asked the most as a writer is; where do you get your ideas from? I always feel a little bit sad when I get asked this, because in my mind I kind of expect everyone to have a head full of ideas and this question reminds me that is not always the case. And then I feel a little bit sorry for the person asking because I don’t know what it feels like not to have millions of ideas and characters running around inside my head.

But where do ideas come from? It really is a good question if you think about it. Our minds are amazing! Pick up any book in your house or think about a recent read that had a real impact on you…it can boggle your brain to wonder how the author came up with it! Here are some of the ways writers get new ideas…

Image by Colin Behrens from Pixabay
  1. Out of nowhere… Sometimes ideas just come out of nowhere. You can’t trace them back to anything you saw, or heard or felt, or anything that inspired you. They just jump into your brain and they are there, taking up space. With me this is usually because the character invades my mind, sets up camp and then starts chatting. Before long they’ve suggested a back story and a possible plot.
  2. Musical inspiration... Writers will sometimes find an idea growing after listening to music. It could be that the song reminds them of a certain time and place and brings back memories that inspire a storyline. Or it could be the lyrics of the song itself that entice the writer to create a story. While driving, I once heard a song on the radio that instantly transported me back to a certain time in my life and by the time I reached my destination I had a short story in my head. I later evolved it into a novel which is in the first draft stage.
  3. TV/Film/book inspiration… Sometimes the young writers I work with worry that their story ideas are too similar to TV shows or films or books they’ve enjoyed. They’ve fallen in love with something and naturally want to emulate it in their own writing because it’s fun to do so. But they feel self-conscious, like they have stolen an idea or copied a character. I always tell them there is absolutely nothing wrong with this and that a lot of ideas are inspired by things we have enjoyed culturally. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series was originally inspired by me watching The Lost Boys at aged 12! My series has zero vampires in it but the scene when the mother realises her new boyfriend is the head vampire, got me thinking about real life monsters that hide among us, and the story grew from there. Writers ‘magpie’ ideas, taking little bits from here and there to create something new and this is totally fine.
  4. Real life people/places/events… Often writers will feel inspired to write about real life people, places or events. This could be in terms of historical or political fiction, or it could be someone they have known or come across sparks off an idea in their head. Writers people watch a lot and they tend to soak up whatever is around them, so the chances are real life people and events do sneak into their writing, sometimes without them even realising it.
  5. Anxieties and fears… I think this happens to me a lot! Quite a few of my personal fears and anxieties have evolved into novels. I think this is my way of working through what upsets and worries me. I never realise it until later though! For example, another reason The Boy With The Thorn In His Side story came about was my fear at 12 years old that my recently divorced parents would meet new partners I would hate. The Mess Of Me grew out of my own body image issues. This Is Nowhere is essentially about a non-religious character trying to find meaning in life, which is something I was thinking about a lot at the time. The Tree Of Rebels and my current work-in-progress confront my fears around climate change and the destruction of wildlife. Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature contains characters who sort of represent an internal fight I have with myself – one is open-minded, open-hearted and wants to see the best in people and view the future with hope, while the other hates people so much she basically becomes agoraphobic. I don’t think writers always realise it at the time, but I do think our personal fears weave their way into our work.
  6. Long walks… Or long showers! Either way, I find doing something relaxing that you don’t really need to think about for a long time, really allows the ideas to flow. I always get good ideas for stories or plotlines when I am walking my dogs alone. Any time I have had a block or got stuck, it has become unravelled on a walk. Ideas for endings have popped into my head out of nowhere while walking. Dialogue often starts to flow too, so I’ll write it down into my phone or record myself saying it so I don’t forget. If you are ever out of ideas, I would strongly recommend a long walk on your own!

So, that covers some of the places ideas come from and some of the things that spark off stories, but I am sure there must be more. What about you? Where do your ideas come from? Feel free to comment and share!

Time to Dig Deep

It was predictable but here we go again – heading into another lockdown in England. Like a lot of people I’d been expecting this for some time as the rate of infections has been accelerating since September. I know there are divided opinions on the best approach to tackle the dreaded Corona Virus, but I’d class myself as falling into the ‘I don’t want another lockdown but if it saves lives, okay then,’ camp.

The announcement came on Saturday night and today it will be voted through Parliament with the lockdown starting tomorrow, Thursday. It will not be as strict as last time, (which does make me wonder whether it will even work…) with schools, colleges and universities remaining open and essential shops, as well as DIY and garden centres staying open. The advice is work from home ‘if you can’, which will no doubt mean for a lot of people, life will go on as normal. Which again, makes me question what impact this will have on the spread of the virus…

For me, I once again cannot teach my writing clubs and groups in person. Instead, I am forced back online, and I suppose the only good thing about it this time is that I am better prepared. Last time, I just could not act fast enough to what was happening. I think my brain put me in survival mode and for me that meant looking after my kids and ignoring everything else. As the time wore on I did give in and purchase Zoom and I have been holding regular adult writing groups online in this way. There is no reason why my other groups cannot go online, but unfortunately children seem less keen to do this, and I have not had a good response so far to my proposed Zoom clubs.

The other positive is that having predicted this would happen, I undertook a Copy-Editing and Proofreading course and at the moment I am providing these services for free to a few authors with the agreement that they will write testimonials for my website. Editing and proofreading their work is also a great experience for me. The plan is my CIC Chasing Driftwood Writing Group will soon offer extra services to authors in the form of editing and proofreading. I hope eventually this will bring in some money to help replace what I have lost. In the long-term it gives me an income stream that can be achieved working from home.

A few days ago I felt intensely unsettled and anxious. I’m sure a lot of people did as they waited to hear whether their place of work would have to be shut down this time or not. For me, it is the uncertainty that makes me anxious. As soon as I know what is happening, I feel better and I can deal with it. I felt sad driving home from dropping my youngest at school and gave in to a few tears while alone in the car. His school have asked parents to wear face coverings during drop off and pick up time, and of course everyone has complied instantly and without complaint. But it was sad to see all these faceless parents dropping off their children and I could not kiss my son goodbye properly, which really got to me. I thought about the virus and how it has made so many things miserable and joyless. Shopping, mixing with people, moving about and now even the school run. I had my tears but I am over them now. Today I am sat here feeling thankful and positive.

I’m thankful because the schools have not closed so while that remains the case, I can get tons of work done at home without disruption. I’m thankful because I have a new business partner at last to share the load and really push Chasing Driftwood in the right direction, despite the pandemic! I’m thankful because I live in a beautiful area with glorious walks right on my doorstep. I’m thankful that so far my family and loves ones are all happy, healthy and safe from this virus. I’m thankful for my pets and my kids and my garden and all the ways I have to distract myself if I start to feel down.

Last time around, the weather was beautiful and we threw ourselves into gardening. It was a real family effort, transforming areas of the garden and making the most of what we had. It was a life saver and I know it had a massive effect on my moods. Being a woman of a certain age struggling daily with the mood swings of the perimenopause, the pandemic has been an eye opener with regards to mental health.

I am better when I am busy, and I am even better than that when I am outside getting my hands dirty. I was fascinated watching the wonderful AutumnWatch the other day, where they explained the science behind nature elevating our moods. From being near water, walking among trees and even spotting birds, all aspects of nature release mood enhancing hormones in our brains. In particular there is a microbe (Mycobacterium vaccae) in soil that when inhaled by us increases the levels of serotonin, lifting our mood and helping us to feel relaxed and happy.

I can testify to this, because whenever I spend any time gardening I finish off feeling as high as a kite – no kidding! It makes me feel amazing, it really does.

Last lockdown saw a huge rise in people growing fruit and vegetables, tending their gardens, attracting wildlife and so on. This will be harder as we enter Winter but not impossible. I have set myself a challenge. To help me through this uneasy time of reduced income and increased stress, I aim to spend at least half an hour every day in my garden. There is still plenty to do out there and I will not let the cold or the rain deter me. I need it!

So, my advice to anyone with a bit of dirt near them is to dig deep and keep digging. Gardening is productive, positive and rebellious. It reminds us where we came from and links us to our ancestors and their ways of life. It connects us to nature and to wildlife and elevates our mood, making us feel happy and content, despite the crazy world we live in right now.

We are all feeling on edge as the virus increases again, as we worry about our health and the health of our loved ones, as we isolate from the rest of humanity, cover our faces and keep our distances, as we fear a reduction in income and living standards, as we fear so many things….We got through it last time so we know we can get through it again. Talk to each other, help each other, speak up when you are feeling lost and afraid and dig deep, even deeper this time to find the resilience we are going to need to get through it.

(Image by Goumbik from Pixabay)

Guest Post #11 Dreaming of Another World

Welcome to another guest post for my regular feature Dreaming of Another World. This feature was originally inspired by a post I wrote about how lockdown made me imagine and long for another kind of world, another way of doing things. So, I invited other creative people on to The Glorious Outsiders to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences. Here is a thought provoking short story from author Val Portelli. At the end of the post you can find Val’s author bio and links to her work.

The Grass is Always Greener

‘Shush, I want to watch the news.’

‘I don’t know why. It’s the same thing every night. Who would have believed six months ago.…’

‘Quiet. It’s starting.’

‘Good evening,’ the dulcet tones of the presenter began the broadcast. ‘The Leader announced today that with the devastation of our planet showing little signs of receding, further emergency measures will need to be put in place. These will include the temporary reduction in food allocation and have a knock-on effect on travel. Those who have already received a confirmation of their bookings will take priority, and the committee are working flat out to accommodate others a soon as possible. Please join us tomorrow for further updates.’

Marcia switched off the appliance and sighed.

‘I knew we should have booked while we had the chance, but you insisted we wait for a better deal,’ she said to her husband. ‘Have we left it too late?’

Dane tensed, hating that Marcia was upset but not knowing what to do about it. They had discussed the trip endlessly, weighing up the pros and cons and saving every spare penny so their dream would be everything they envisaged.

‘I’m sorry, love. The discount for going out of season was too good to ignore. Another four weeks and we would have been on our way. Who would have guessed this would happen? The whole universe has gone crazy, but don’t give up. I’ll sort it out somehow.’

‘No, it’s not your fault,’ Marcia said, going over to give him a hug. ‘No one could have predicted this would happen. When we made our plans, life was normal and we assumed it would carry on that way. I should have told you I wanted a crystal ball for my birthday, then I could have said “Told you so.” As it is, we’ve got to take our chances with everyone else who’s in the same boat. We’ve got the advantage we’re prepared. Tomorrow we’ll register and the first space that comes up we’ll take it. Agreed?’

‘Agreed,’ Dane said, determined to spend as much time online as necessary to make sure they got away as soon as possible. Although he tried to stay positive it wasn’t easy as daily life became more of a challenge. No longer able to work as further restrictions came into force, they were forced to exist on half the income they had enjoyed previously. At times they were

tempted to dip into their savings, but that would mean they would be unable to afford their dream, so they made do, and tried to stay positive.

The increasing heat made them feel lethargic, and concentration difficult. Usually they were happy in each other’s company, but being confined 24/7 they were both snappy and unreasonable. Weeks passed until one day it all got too much and Marcia took out her frustrations on Dane, blaming him for everything going wrong. He retaliated and soon they were in the middle of a full-blown row. In temper, she threw two plates in the sink which promptly smashed, he shouted at her for being unappreciative and destroying the crockery set he had worked so hard to buy. All their pent-up anger and bitterness spewed out and he spent the night sleeping in the spare room.

The next morning the atmosphere was quiet and tense. They spoke to each other only when necessary, both too stubborn to make the first move and apologise. That evening Marcia felt tears welling up as she was cutting their last remaining vegetables for a meagre meal. Unable to see clearly, the knife slipped and blood spurted out from the gash in her finger.

‘Darling are you alright?’ Dane asked as he rushed to her side.

‘They were all we had left,’ Marcia sobbed. ‘Now I can’t even feed you properly.’

‘Hush, it’ll be fine. I needed to lose some weight anyway,’ Dane joked as he took her in his arms and comforted her, until with a final hic-cup she managed a weak smile.

‘If we had any other ingredients I could make a black pudding,’ she said, ‘or perhaps we could turn into vampires and not have to worry about food.’

‘That’s my girl. You can bite me any time you like, but first we should clean up that cut. It looks nasty,’ Dane responded as he went to fetch some antiseptic and a plaster.

With harmony restored between them, he salvaged what he could for their meal, and on impulse brought out their last bottle of wine.

‘I know we were saving it for a celebration,’ he said, ‘but I think we need it tonight. Perhaps it will bring us luck. Sorry sweetheart, I shouldn’t have taken my temper out on you. Cheers.’

‘It was my fault. I’m sorry. Whatever happens, we’ve still got our dream. Cheers to a brighter future.’

Once they had cleared up, he logged on as usual, prepared for another disappointment. To his amazement a vacancy appeared, two seats available, leaving in three days’ time. He was shaking so much his finger could hardly press the “book” button. Half excited, half gearing himself up for disappointment he sat biting his nails until the confirmation with full details appeared, when he let out a loud whoop of delight.

‘What’s happened? Tell me,’ Marcia said as she came rushing in to ask what all the commotion was about.

‘We’re going, we’re going,’ Dane shouted as he picked her up and twirled her round the room. ‘In three days’ time we’ll be leaving this hell-hole planet for good, and on our way to earth. No more 40 degrees heat, no more confined to the house, no more food restrictions, no more rulers dictating what we can and can’t do. We’ll be free to wander about and enjoy life the way it used to be.’

Neither of them truly believed it would happen until they received their immigration papers, medical confirmation for a clean bill of health, and were seated in the space craft ready for take-off to a new world. Life on earth was their dream finally coming true.

It was only as they exited the craft and joined the queue for new arrivals, they were able to learn of the restrictions affecting their new planet. Global warming meant average temperatures were similar to home, the virus meant food shortages and confinement, with additional regulations affecting their every move.

The grass is not always greener.

A huge thanks to Val for sharing this story with us! You can find out more about Val and her work below. If you have a blog post, short story or poem on the theme Dreaming of Another World, then please get in touch!

Author Bio

Despite receiving her first rejection letter when she was nine, from some lovely people at a well-known Women’s magazine, Val continued writing intermittently until a freak accident left her housebound and going stir crazy. The completion and publication of her first full length novel helped save her sanity during those difficult times.

Six books and various anthologies later, she is currently working on her long neglected 100,000 word plus manuscript, in between writing follow ups to two of her earlier novels with the intention of making them into a series. She writes in a variety of genres, although the weekly short stories she posts on her Facebook author page tend to include her trademark ‘Quirky’ twist.

Val lives on the outskirts of London, where she provides a free restaurant service to various generations of foxes who have obtained squatters’ rights since her dogs passed over the rainbow bridge. She is always delighted to receive reviews, as they encourage sales, and help to pay the exorbitant supermarket chicken bill to keep her visitors fed.

In her spare time she studies how to market her work to a wider audience, before resorting to procrastinating on social media, and seeking advice from the unicorns she breeds in the shed at the bottom of the garden.

Links

Amazon author page https://author.to/ValPortelli

Voinks blog and Val Portelli web site. http://www.Voinks.wordpress.com

Quirky Unicorn web site. http://www.quirkyunicornbooks.wordpress.com

Goodreads http://www.goodreads.com/wwwgoodreadscomVal_Portelli

Twitter https://twitter.com/ValPortelli

Guest Post #9 Dreaming Of Another World

Dreaming of another world is a new feature on my blog where I welcome fellow writers or bloggers to talk about their experiences of Covid 19 and lockdown. I wondered whether other creatives felt like me – that another world was possible and could just be glimpsed once we were forced to stay still. I’ve had a great response and each week I will be publishing a post written by a guest -sharing their thoughts, feelings, hopes and fears during this strange and unsettling time. This week please welcome Suzie Ankers to The Glorious Outsiders. Suzie is a member of my writing group (Chasing Driftwood Writing Group) and is currently working on her debut novel, a thriller. The stresses and strains of lockdown prompted her to write the following poem.

My Daughter Turns Fifteen

It approached like a dark circling tornado,

Full of the threat of violent destruction and menace,

We watch the news in nervous anticipation whilst around us other deny its very existence,

We become doomsday preppers gathering our medications and food to withdraw from society,

Then we wait and life for a while, continues unabated.

Two weeks later and the landscape of the world has changed,

The once busy shopping centres lie empty as a silent killer stalks their aisles,

Our airports and ports keep inviting further unbidden guests to our homes and families,

The doors to my own business remain resolutely shut but my shame escapes,

There is a huge sorrow and fear in the air as my colleagues prepare the NHS for its onslaught,

They are being sent to war without shields and weapons,

Those low paid workers are now the new heroes of our society brought to its knees.

I watched your silent anguish as everyday you swallowed pills which you knew increased your vulnerability,

Whilst your brother and sister railed against the injustice of their false imprisonment you had no such complaints,

The creases in your forehead an indicator of your climbing anxiety,

The news spews forth the dire nature of the battle we have entered into and the fact that we are unprepared,

As we watch our prime minister, an expectant father, now fighting for his life,

I guess you wondered if this is what Corona had in store for you.

Fortunately, the storm abated,

The blue skies of summer heralded the way of greater freedoms, but we didn’t realise we were in the eye of the storm,

Still you hung back and waited until we could at last change your medication,

Fearful of the very thing that makes us human, social interaction.

Your brother left for university,

He partied his way to newfound freedoms,

I saw you watching and shaking your head and yet there was resigned joy in the fact that he had managed to get some semblance of normality,

Beneath that we held a knotting fear in our stomachs,

Would he pay for wanting to be like everyone else?

What risks would he have to navigate in his future career as a Physiotherapist?

Your sister, the most sociable of her family had missed groups,

As soon as she could she reclaimed the reigns of her social life but guided her horse skilfully around the hurdles of the new rules,

Even she was chastened by the virus for wanting normality,

Her boyfriends brother tested positive for Corona after returning from holiday and we missed out being in contact by a hair’s breadth,

I questioned my boundaries and yet I knew this is not the summer she sought,

She had plans of festivals, illicit alcohol, boys, and music. Parties on the beach.

Instead she got family time and more family time,

Yes, we tried teaching her to drive but how could we replace her peers?

Finally, you return to school and I am so proud,

You are the only child in your class to wear a mask,

I see the worry though in the dark circles around your eyes,

I hear the anger as they confirm cases at school and still walk around the corridors without masks,

I sense the rising frustration that people are not taking things as seriously as you believe they should.

I watch you attend your first interview wearing clothes that make you look like a middle-aged woman,

I realise what a warrior you have become and how you have had to wear an old head on young shoulders,

My heart swells with pride as you patiently explain yet again that you wear a mask to keep vulnerable members of society safe.

The interviewer nods yet I wonder if he really understands

I lie in bed at 3am unable to claim sleep worrying about the future,

That’s when my husband holds me and I hear his heart beating deep inside his chest,

It marks the rhythm of time passing and I think how we have made it this far without arguments and together,

He whispers to me that I am a good mama but not even I can protect my children from the air,

My heart does a somersault and my eyes search the ceiling for answers that just are not there.

Thank you so much to Suzie for sharing her words with us. Suzie’s bio is below.

Suzie joined the creative writing group a year ago. For her the act of writing is akin to the joy of reading and transports her into another world. She has three teenage children and works as a Therapist supporting children with Autism, ADHD and Sensory issues. She lives with her husband and children plus their energetic cocker spaniel named Beau. This piece was inspired by her daughters return to school post lockdown and it proved cathartic to write down all her anxieties.