Wednesday, August 24, 2011


by Elizabeth

People often ask me where I get my ideas. I really don’t know “where” or “how”—I guess they just come. Most of them get discarded. I used to feel like they were magic or special somehow, but once I got over that, once I realized that my brain is wired for them—I let that go. Which was liberating (ha ha, get it? Let it go? Liberated? Yeah, never mind).

Every now and then I’ll get motivated to start a new notebook labeled “Ideas” (to replace the one I started six months or three years earlier, and lost, I mean misplaced). I’ll jot stuff down, maybe even tape a newspaper article to a page if I’m really motivated and can find tape. When I stumble across these old notebooks, I generally do remember the story ideas from the notes. Sometimes not, though. What the heck did the cryptic words “owl/cherry pie/sisters/the last one ever” possibly mean? That one is lost to the ages. Bummer, that. Surely it would have been a bestseller had I only been able to stretch eight words to eighty thousand.

And sometimes the ideas are rooted in pop culture; good ideas maybe, but perhaps more fan fiction than a fresh idea. I’d love to see a movie called “The Dinner Club,” an update of my generation’s touchstone flick. There’s not an actor from the movie who couldn't use the work, really, so why haven’t they done this yet? I have no Hollywood connections, so I wouldn’t know, and it’s entirely likely multiple scripts have floated around Tinsel-land for years. And maybe rejected when "Before Sunset,” the same concept based on the Ethan Hawke original, failed to bring in zillions. Then again, Ethan Hawke was never any competition for the raw adolescent surge of that kiss Judd Nelson planted on Molly Ringwald.

Speaking of fantastic teenage kisses and the ideas they engender, was there ever anything sexier than Eric Stoltz clutching Mary Stuart Masterson’s hips as he gently touched his lips to hers in "Some Kind of Wonderful"? There’s an idea for a remake for you: "Some Kind of Ho-Hum." Maybe the characters meet again, now in their forties, and their lives are not as magical as seventeen-year-olds are certain they will become. Or maybe they just can’t recognize the magic, and seeing Watts brings back the artist in the architect for Keith, or something. Or something.

But this isn’t about movies from the eighties, much as I could go on all day about John Hughes and John Cusack. This is about ideas, where they come from, and which get chosen.

And the real answer is, I’m not sure. Pop culture, sure, a definite springboard. History, both in the traditional sense and the very personal. (Or both.) Observation (also known as snooping and eavesdropping.) Simple musing, looking at a person I know or a person I don’t, and imagining their life when they leave my presence.

Here’s the thing: the ideas, wherever they come from, always come. I guess I had always assumed, if I’d thought about it, which I never really did, that everyone thought that way. That everyone had these ideas constantly flitting through their brains, stories churned and discarded like so much buttermilk. (And there’s a story right there, from history: six high school girls at a tacky breakfast diner, and one orders buttermilk and peppers it. What sixteen year old orders buttermilk? And off we go…)

I wonder if other writers have ideas nibbling at them all the time the same way. Some writers have huge ideas, giant ideas; is there room for the little ones with those monsters taking up so much space? I have had so many tiny ones, and some pretty big ones (that I have not yet found the, yup, let’s call it courage, to undertake), and I don’t understand any more than the people who ask about it where they come from or how it works. But I do think I have come to realize that this is not normal, or at least not the norm.

The ideas, they come. And maybe more than anything else, other than the proof on the page, the actual words written down, I think the stream of ideas is what makes me a writer. I just can’t help it.

1 comment:

  1. I'm thinking you just hit upon an idea for a book: writing prompts. You could do it because, yes, you are right. Not everyone's brain works the way yours does. I'm lucky to have one idea filter through a month. And that's if I'm trying!


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