Saturday, April 21, 2012

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

So I went to my son’s school* last week and talked to the second graders about being a writer. The kids were great, engaged and interested and full of all sorts of practical questions. They squeezed into a classroom, all one hundred of them, and sat on the floor all around me. It didn’t bother them one bit that I wasn’t a writer of children’s books (which I had been somewhat concerned about). I had a book and that was all that mattered. The duck on the cover probably helped, too.

The questions ranged from Are you going to write a sequel? (not in the cards for now) to What are you working on? (a time-travel story) to What are section breaks? (which was actually a bit hard to explain.)
 
There were so many questions that the whole thing was more of a conversation than a talk on my part, which was a good thing.
 
None of the kids asked the classic Where do you get your ideas?, but one of the teachers did. The real answer is that I don’t know — ideas just seem to be there, swirling. The tricky part isn’t getting an idea, but plucking the right one from the vortex and then giving it life and shape and turning it into a story. A book isn’t a single idea, either — it’s a slew of them, small ones, medium ones, big ones, woven together into (one hopes) something new and interesting. The trickiest part for me is figuring out which ideas will work and which ones are duds or unrealistically grand or too small, and on occasion the only way to know is to try to get them onto the page and either fail or not.
 
So we talked about how they probably have lots of ideas when they daydream and such, and also about how long it takes to write a book (a year, I said, and they were duly impressed.)
 
The half an hour went by quickly and it was time to leave. On the way out I asked my son, “How was it?” He said, Fineseeyoulater, just like that, very fast. I think he was worried I’d embarrass him by giving him a hug in front of the other kids or something.

So where do I get my ideas?

I think they find me.

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*Name withheld for privacy reasons. Because how embarrassing would it be if one of your parents blogged about you publicly and even mentioned you and your school by NAME.