Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

Last month I blogged about the importance to your professional development of attending writing conferences and festivals. Today I’m talking about another aspect I call “filling the well.”

How do writers find new things to write about? It helps to be interested in a wide range of subjects, not only those of personal concern but appealing to the world at large. My family calls me a “mine of useless information”, though it comes in handy at trivia nights, because I’ve researched such a wide variety of topics from opal mining to space shuttle operation.

You can combine your conference attendances with rambling research either related to your current writing project, or simply because it’s there.

In my book, The Idea Factory, I called these absorption trips, a name coined by screenwriter, William Goldberg, who suggests you become a sponge, soaking up input wherever you go. Almost any experience can be turned into an absorption trip, from dentist visits to shopping trips. Train yourself to see not only what’s there, but what could be there. What if your dentist is making a fortune through selling illegally plundered gold teeth? If you use this idea, best not use your real dentist’s name to protect the innocent.

When visiting new towns and cities, explore the local businesses, talk to the locals and learn as much as you can about their lives and why they do what they do. Tell them you’re a writer so they don’t think you’re just nosy. Most people I’ve met are flattered by sincere attention.

I’ve also developed many story ideas from reading journals I don’t normally see. Flying to a writing conference in Brisbane not long ago, I was leafing through the in flight magazine, fascinated by a reference to an Irish town as a “thin place” where the boundaries between the real and the supernatural are easily breached. Tantalising as that concept is, I won’t write about it because any writer seeing that reference will feel the same.

Stories “plucked from the headlines” need to be written quickly or not at all, before another questing mind can beat you to it. Many writers believe their ideas have been “stolen” when the truth is, we are all exposed to much the same creative influences. Years ago I indulged my passion for sci-fi by creating a romance hero who might have arrived by UFO. While the book, The Leopard Tree, was in production, I read a review of another book where the hero…you guessed it. There’s no copyright on ideas, only in how they are developed by the writer.

Best-selling novelist, Dean Koontz, said in an interview that he advised writers to do two things. The first is to write, write, write. Concentrate on developing your writing craft to the highest calibre you can. The second is to read, read, read. Koontz says the more you broaden your interests as a reader, the more you broaden your talent as a writer.

He says you should read a book first as a reader, then analyse it to discover the “nuts and bolts with which the story is built.”  As you make the effort your subconscious “will make all sorts of associations and connections, and over time it will give you the critical understanding you are seeking.”

Researching facts is best done through Google and similar resources. Your absorption trips supply the bits you can’t research – the sights, sounds and even smells of a new place or setting, and the accents, clothes and attitudes of the people you meet. Not only will these details fill your creative well with new ideas, they will add a richness to your writing that you can’t get any other way.

Recently I explored some wonderful new places in the USA including a magical Butterfly House and a tour of the Johnson Space Centre, Houston. Tax deductible because it’s research, My story and I’m sticking to it.

How do you find your new insights and stories? Have any of your travels resulted in ideas that excited you enough to write about them? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. They’re moderated to avoid spam but your posts go up right away if you  click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,


on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Masterclass  Canberra, Australia : 18 November  Romance Writing Re-imagined  ACT Writers Centre 








Comments on: "First Monday Mentoring Nov – how do writers fill the creative well?" (7)

  1. I scribble down interesting thoughts or ideas as they come to me. Or curious things I see people doing. All scribbles are supposed to end up in the writing journal for future reference when looking for ideas. Turning the ideas into stories, well that’s another matter.

  2. So true, Ross. Turning ideas into stories is what separates the writers from the would-bes.

  3. Good advice as always!

  4. Good advice as always!

  5. Almost everything can give me ideas for stories, or elements in stories. Traveling has always been a great source of inspiration. I don’t get to do as much of it these days, but I hope to again. There’s just something about being away from the everyday, if we’re paying attention, that can spark the imagination. About those thin places–I hear they’re common in Scotland and parts of England, too, and I know there are some thin places in North America.

    I’d love to see the Johnson Space Center make its way into your Birthright series! Or another science fiction series yet to be born.

    Now if something would only give me the ideas I need to fill in the gaps of my current novel!

    • Wish I could help with the current novel, Marion. Sometimes letting a project lie fallow for a while leads to a lightbulb moment. My personal process is to make long lists of my options, not judging, simply listing from the sensible to the wild and crazy, until something clicks. The first on the list are usually the ones everyone thinks off. It’s only when you write a dozen or more (I’ve done as many as a hundred) that you start getting to the good stuff. You might also combine two or more of your options into one viable solution. Good luck.

      • Excellent advice! NaNoWriMo usually pushes me to the limit and gets me past the true villain: Procrastination. Today, I shrank down the video viewer on my computer screen and watched some superhero madness while working on the story, just writing down crazy options exactly as you suggested. It’ll probably take a while to integrate the parts that will work, but now I have something to work with.

        It’s odd. I used to work with music, always. I wrote a great science fiction epic to the sound track from Star Wars. (Great in my mind, at least!) I’ve written westerns to western soundtracks. Never had the idea to try superheroes to jar my romantic suspense writing, though, until today. With the slow internet, and the way the video buffered every four or five lines, I was able to write and still follow the story. 😀

        I’m going to continue writing down the crazy ideas for my insane antagonist and the accomplice, and then try to figure out how on earth the Hero & Heroine will manage to fall in love while protecting the Hero’s daughter, when they both think everything is safe and they have to get back to work….. Cue the maniacal laughter. 😉

        Thanks, Valerie! Talking with you always helps!

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