Ideas into stories–the compost/rock tumbler approach

Photo by Kevin Fleming

Perhaps the question most frequently asked of authors is Where do you get your ideas?

When I heard William Gibson speak,  he said that he imagines he has a compost bin attached to the back of his head.  He throws things in there–articles, snippets of conversation, images, experiences–and eventually they knock together enough to transmogrify into something new.

When Laini Taylor launched DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT, the wildly inventive sequel to DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE, she talked about how stories are born when many ideas crash together.

Sometimes I carry ideas around in my back pocket for a very long time.  One in particular–a scene with a broken-winged heron–has been very persistent.  I tried to make it into a picture book, which earned me my “worst critique ever” experience.  (After reading it, Big NY Agent told me that I couldn’t write.)  I rewrote it a bunch of times, but it never really worked.  I think it’s not a big enough idea to graduate into “story” status.  It needed transmogrification.

I was gleeful when I realized that–with a complete overhaul–the heron and the emotion behind the image could be woven into the novel I’m currently writing.  The idea will emerge from the head-bin completely different than went in but it has not been lost.

It’s at times like these when the writing process becomes alchemy–a little bit of magic in real life.