One question asked every time I speak to a group of readers about my books is this:
How do you get your ideas?
My first book idea came from me creating a mash-up of my favorite novels, pulling bits and pieces from each, then finding a new platform from which to launch the conglomeration. Thus, Protected was born, and I introduced Abby and Manny to the world. From there, subsequent books tell the stories of the other people included in book one. Book two, A Father’s Gift, continues the story of my main characters in Protected, and book three, Accepted, (coming out in September, 2023), brings Manny’s best friend, Jonathan, and his story front and center.
Where did their stories come from? In my case, I believe the ideas for stories come from God. How can I weave a tale that shows ordinary people who survive their everyday problems and challenges to their faith? How can I share encouragement with readers to continue turning back to God if it doesn’t seem like he listens to our prayers?
I pray and wait for the ideas to come.
Many times, those ideas come while I’m in the shower. Does the spray of water massage my brain? Does steam break up whatever blocks my creativity? The answer is a mystery, but one that has repeated itself so many times, I now sometimes jump in the shower when I’m stuck and wait to see if inspiration strikes.
When I listen to music, often a story creates itself in the background as I sing along. Back when I still taught (math, by the way), I had what I thought was a wonderful idea for a writing assignment in the English classes. I’d been listening to my new Josh Groban CD (that tells you how long ago this happened—nobody buys CDs anymore). He sang in a foreign language, probably Italian. I couldn’t understand the words, but a very vivid picture emerged in my imagination based on the emotion in his voice and in the swells and lulls of the music. My pretend story made me curious—would other people hear something different? I wanted my friend Becky to let her students write what they “saw” by listening to the song.
I’ve learned to pay attention to those whispers. I pause, reel in my thoughts, and see if there is something I could turn into a novel. If I feel like the idea has legs, I jot it in a note saved on my phone for later. Sometimes those ideas nudge me. They seem eager to come to life. One book at a time for me, though. I’m not a writer who can have two or three projects going at once.
My favorite method of getting new ideas is when they come in a dream. Rarely can I keep a grasp on the tenuous threads that float through my mind in the dead of night. Three times, I attempted to recall the bones of the story after I woke up the next morning. Three times, the entire project vanished like the mist burning off in the light of day. I now force myself to jump out of bed and write it down. Those often feel totally ridiculous when I read them the next day. Instead of a story I can build up, I find myself staring at a scribbled description of something resembling a Mad Hatter’s party. Crumple that paper up and toss it in the trash.
But occasionally, the dream sequence is a kernel that puts down roots. I sit and ponder, and slowly, the idea blooms like a rose, each petal unfurling to reveal another trail in the story. That happened this week. I shared the idea with my Friday morning critique partners, and they agreed it would make a fun read. Cheryl remembered a contest she’d recently seen advertised and shared it with me. So now I have something to do with the story when I’ve polished the words, and they’re ready to go.
Creating that was fun. I’m so grateful I was in a place in my life in 2019 where I could retire from teaching and spend all my time writing. The pursuit is challenging and difficult, but ultimately rewarding. If you’ve ever considered writing, wait no longer. I’m happy to help you in any way I can. And if you are writing, share with the rest of us how you get your ideas.