I’ve always thought it was fascinating that when trying to ignite a spark for a story idea, I do better when I actually give my imagination permission.
We can all get caught up in taking care of what needs to be done in life—family, jobs, friends, housework, even leisure time activities. For me, I always have a ‘to do’ list of things I’m trying to accomplish, crossing one item off and adding two more! It’s hard for me to create something fresh when I’m just cranking away, focused on other projects and tasks.
My focus here is not writing about experiences that I’ve already had or people that I know. But instead, when I want to generate something from scratch, so to speak. So, to come up with something completely new, I make some definite plans. It involves three basic things.
Creative Friendly Environment - The surroundings I put myself into can vary. A friend of mine just took himself away from his everyday life and settled into an RV for a few days to focus on his writing. Being close to water is always a plus for me whether it be an ocean, a lake, or a puddle! Water helps my creative process.
Then again, I have spent hundreds of hours at Starbucks over the past several years. Sometimes sitting there for four and five hours at a time, lost to all that is going on around me. Those times, just being around people, but not interacting with them, is valuable.
I recall this one time going into a coffee shop with the goal of coming up with a specific script idea. Not long after I sat down, an interesting character walked in and began to talk the ear off of the person not far from me. I admit it, I ease-dropped! But honestly, I really have crummy hearing, so I only caught some of the words. Those combined with my imagination and some note taking, I had an idea for my script. Did it have anything to do with what the person was preaching to his unfortunate listener? Definitely not. But, in my mind it morphed into an entirely different scenario.
Some of the best times have been driving in my car alone. A few years back I was driving from Phoenix to San Diego. My goal was before I arrived at my destination, to come up with an idea for a story that takes place in a small town. As I drove across the open road, I captured my thoughts onto my voice recorder. By the time I arrived, I had a good bit of information about the plot, the characters and many pieces of the story. Funny, that was almost three years ago now. And actually, will result in my first novel! I have done this on numerous occasions.
Once in a while, I can spark an idea at home (sometimes in the bathtub…haha), but not as often. Seems like getting out into the world stimulates more imaginative results.
Music - Music has an effect on mood and thought and inspiration. So, I almost always work with music playing in the background. The style runs the gamut. Movie soundtracks, classical, romantic, some with an edge to it. It’s more about the feeling I am trying to emote in my writing. It helps to place me in the moment with my characters and their world.
If I want to generate more action oriented ideas, I might listen to the soundtrack of Batman Begins or Inception. Drama - definitely piano and strings. Something more scary, I love the theme song from the Exorcist and the score from the movie The Grudge. There are tons of choices.
Expectant Frame of Mind - This is most important. I can set up my environment and play some wonderful music, but unless I am mentally prepared, it’s just an enjoyable moment of relaxation. Preparation is key. I set aside a specific timeframe in advance (perhaps an afternoon or evening when I won’t be interrupted) and prepare myself mentally.
I tell myself that during that time, I am going to generate an idea. Sometimes I set parameters, and sometimes I do not. For example, perhaps I want the story to occur in one location or involve a strong middle aged female character or has to do with alternate realities.
Then, I open up my mind and totally engage what I see, what I hear, and what I feel. And, be ultra observant of everything—an animal feeding, insects crawling on trash, blaring horns, people near me, a colorful sunset, a stalled fishing boat. It’s hard to describe, but it just takes something small to spark that imagination and suddenly grow into an idea…when you are expecting it.
Not always, but usually the outcome of that time spent is positive. The story that evolves may or may not end up even being close to the original idea, but many times it is a very solid start. And, that’s what I’m searching for—a starting place.
The point is that I purposefully and intentionally set myself in a position to allow my imagination to flourish. I would love to do this more, but honestly, once that initial idea comes, then I move into a different type of creativeness to expand and develop the story. Then, something completely beyond that for putting all the pieces into place and making the final project come to fruition.
I know everyone has their own ways of setting in motion their own creative process. There honestly is not just one way. For me? My laptop by a body of water, a hot chai tea, moving music, and permission to let my imagination run wild and do what it is meant to do.
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