Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter.
Most writers inevitably encounter the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” I’ve been on the receiving end more times than I can count, and I often wonder about other writers, too.
Where, for example, does Stephen King come up with all his intricate storylines? Where did Kate Atkinson get the idea for Life After Life?
Actually, ideas are everywhere, and they’re often triggered by those magic words, “What if . . ..?”
In my experience, however, the initial spark tends to morph into something quite different when I begin to work on a story. My first novel, Mending Dreams, came about because I knew a woman whose husband did the same thing my protagonist’s husband did: came home one day and told her he was leaving her because he was in love. . . with another man. “What if,” I wondered, “that had happened to me? How would I react?” The eventual premise turned into something quite different than I expected, as themes of love and courage emerged from the mess I created in those first pages.
I was married to an artist in the 60s and 70s, and as I was looking over old photos from those days, I asked myself, “What if my husband had become really famous?” This led to Write My Name on the Sky, which will be published this summer. The story changed tremendously in the execution, but that first flash of inspiration arose from those old pictures.
A couple of years ago, during my annual physical exam, my doctor remarked that both my hearing and breathing capacity had improved in the past year. Hmmm. What if I was growing younger? That idea became the cornerstone of the novel I’m currently writing, and it’s become more than a case of mere wish fulfillment.
Webster’s New World Dictionary defines “Muse” as “a source of genius or inspiration,” but I have other names for her. She is quite a trickster, and if I don’t pay attention to her whispered ideas, they vanish like smoke. That’s why I am almost never without pen and paper—or in today’s world, without my trusty iPhone, which I use to record the Muse’s suggestions and sometimes even to photograph the source of them.
Yes, ideas are everywhere, but writers need to respect them when they appear; don’t squander them; nurture them and preserve them.
I believe the writing process is at least one part voodoo.
For me, it seems that once I set my intent to write about a particular topic, the creative universe springs into action. For my woman-getting-younger novel, even while I was sketching out the premise, articles started appearing in newspapers and magazines I read, about “age disruption” and “life extension.” My research file on the subject is over six inches thick!
I would love to hear from my fellow writers and readers about this subject. What inspires you? Where do you get your ideas? And how do you hang onto them when they appear? What do you do with them? Please share!
13 thoughts on “Respecting the Muse by Bonnie Schroeder”
Whether one’s muse is male or female (I prefer one who looks more like Vin Diesel myself), I totally agree that keeping a notepad handy and using it is a lifesaver. Most nights I have flashlight in hand in bed jotting down an idea to use in the morning. And I have a folder full of ideas, sketches for a scene, etc. The book that’s coming out in the summer, Last Chance, came from the beginning of a story I wrote in high school. I still have the typed pages. That muse is there for a reason. Great post, Bonnie.
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Thanks, GB. Hmmm, I never thought of Vin Diesel as a Muse, but I’m beginning to like the idea. . . Hey, there’s a new story for one of us! What if your muse did look like Vin Diesel? What kind of stories would he tell you late at night when you’re writing by flashlight?
For me, ideas are everywhere–especially when I meet a new dog or hear of a different situation involving dogs. I, too, keep writing materials near me at all times, even at night, though those I most frequently use when my muse visits are note cards and a pen. I always welcome my muse, and she definitely keeps me busy!
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The dog as muse perhaps? I’m getting ideas too: first Vin Diesel, then a muse with four legs and a tail. Your muse is VERY active, Linda, based on the number of books you’ve had published!
Great post, Bonnie. I agree, getting ideas is an amazing process, and ideas that morph into written stories is even more amazing to me. And like you pointed out, the actual stories may not be what was envisioned when starting out. And the “what it…” trigger, I also agree is very powerful. My tough spot, is the follow-through. As in, getting the darn story written!
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Thanks, Mad. Yeah, the idea phase is fun. The follow-through. . . is a lot more work!
Know the feeling, Madeline.
Very enlightening article. I love the way your books were “born”, Bonnie. Good job!
Thanks, Jackie. Glad you liked it!!
The whole process of writing, from conception to conclusion, still mystifies me. I still don’t know where ideas or the words on the page comes from. Sometimes they’re whispered by memories of the past, inspired by the present or wished for in the future. I should keep a notepad with me at all times, though as you point out, I can always use my smart phone to email myself. Great post.
Thanks, Miko. Glad I’m not the only one who finds the whole thing so mysterious. But that’s what makes it so rewarding.
Having just taught a workshop on writing to a dozen 3rd to 7th graders, I had to come up with the answer to that question as well. “Where do you get your ideas from?” (They add the “from.”) I told them ‘everywhere’ too. Also that the whole story (or book) doesn’t come ready made, but that you have to add to that original spark over time and many times and sometimes it morphs into something quite different altogether. Ask questions, I told them, like the proverbial “What if?” and others. Brainstorm, doodle, do whatever it takes.
I gave them lots of story starters and prompts and exercises to do, and guess what? They came up with ideas, and most finished a story in the week between classes, including a full blown mystery with suspects and surprise ending!! (Okay, rough drafts to be sure, but for them, they had done it!)
Not sure I identify with a muse…. but like you, Bonnie (and others), I have to jot down any fleeting wisps of ideas very soon after they flit by, or else…. Good post!
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Thanks, Jackie. How great that you’re giving these youngsters a head start in writing!