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The Idea Kitchen - A Guest Post by Justin Swapp

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Now that you've finished up NaNoWriMo (and if you wrote anything, you were successful) you might find yourself wondering what the heck you're going to write about next.  Justin Swapp has some answers from you - and no, it's not a bloody mail-order catalog.

One of the most frequently asked questions of writers is, "where do you get your ideas?" 

While seemingly innocent, there’s something inherently wrong with that question. The implication is that there is some magical place that certain writers can steal away to in order to harvest fantastic ideas. It's as if they're asking, "where's the mystical portal that takes me to the land of the idea storks?" 

There is no such place. There might be a story there, though. (If you think so, go write it and post a link in the comments.)

The truth is that ideas come from hard work. There, I said it.

I believe that there are a few behaviors you can employ to make things easier on yourself; to help foster your creativity, capture your ideas, and ultimately harvest more ideas. 

1. Get to know yourself and what excites you to tell a story. This is more important than you might think. If you understand what motivates your writing, you’re more likely to uncover ideas that you are passionate about. You will be more likely to take an early idea, stick with it, and massage it because it inspires you. Moreover, when you write you’re more likely to infuse that energy in into your work, and therefore into your reader. To look at it another way, writer’s block (a shortage of ideas) can be caused by a simple lack of interest, or by having nothing to say. If you start with an idea that you are really excited about, you are likely to develop and help it realize its potential.

Make a list of your favorite books, and what you liked most about them. Was it a certain character? What about the character? A particular fight scene? What of it? A certain plot device? Write these things down. After a careful review, it may become clear that there are certain things that jazz you about stories. Find more of that thing, or better yet, write about it.

2. Go get some experiences. Writing ideas come from connecting the dots; from asking 'what if?' questions, and then exploring the answers. By creating plenty of life experiences, you are improving your ability to connect things: Places, people, and situations. In other words: Settings, characters, plots, and that ever-important 'voice' that will make up your writing.

3. Pay attention to what goes on around you, and collect your observations. It does little to have experiences if you don't actually absorb them for what they are. 

Be observant wherever you go. Write what you see (especially what you find interesting) in a writing journal. Maybe it’s a crazy haircut, or something flashy someone’s wearing. Perhaps it’s a certain characteristic of an old building, or a bit of dialogue you overhear someone say. If you carry your “journal” with you wherever you go, it should be fairly easy. It could be an app on your smart phone (you carry that with you everywhere, don’t you?) Maybe it’s a moleskin notebook you keep by your bed at night. Either way, capture your observations and lock them up in your magical idea book. I've had several things published based on ideas, a sentence or two that I had written down long before I developed the ideas. As we grow, those old sentences take on new meaning and become more usable. You do have to capture them, though. If you don’t, they slip away like sand between your fingers.

4. Twist your ideas around to make them fresh. Once you’ve written your ideas down, you have to play with them a little, and massage them. You knead them like bread dough. Depending on your preferred genre, maybe you torture them. Either way, great ideas are developed with hard work, not just plucked out of the air.

You might be tempted to disregard your more simple ideas in the hunt for the ever-elusive silver bullet type; that zinger that you just know is a "novel" idea. Don't. More often the best ideas start out a bit bland. You add seasoning, cut them up, and mix them together. Maybe you drown them in boiling water, and suddenly you have something totally new and appealing. 

Good ideas come from the kitchen. You MAKE them. You collect ingredients, mix them together, and experiment with new recipes. A master chef is someone who has learned what he likes, which ingredients compliment each other the best, and how to put them together in a way that will leave most people satisfied. Writing is no different.

Justin was born with an active imagination on a U.S. naval base in Spain, but has spent most of his life in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains of Utah. He is bilingual, and has lived all over the world. He has four children; two boys, and two girls, and an enduring wife. He doesn't have any pets that he's aware of, but his children have been known to hide things under his bed.
Justin is the author of The Magic Shop. He has also been published in several anthologies, including The Crimson Pact (Volumes 1, 2, and 5), The Memory Eater, and Short Sips: Coffee House Flash Fiction Collection 2.
In his free time Justin loves to read, write, and play games. He enjoys his close friends, and loves to make people laugh. To learn more about Justin, or his work, you can visit him at www.justinswapp.com

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