Where Do You Get Your Ideas? No 1 Real Life Moments

Where Do you Get Your Ideas? Is it the most frequently asked question a writer faces when out and about? Well, if you live in Edinburgh, the most frequently asked question is, “So are you the next JK Rowling then?” so maybe Where Do You Get Your Ideas, might be the second most frequently asked question.

The answer isn’t always that easy. Certainly a writer can make glib references to ideas being all around, but if the person you’re talking to has just come through a difficult divorce, a bereavement, or been left a million acres of waterless Australian desert, then it may not be clear how this event transforms into top class fiction. It isn’t always clear to me either, but I know that real life is the raw material I most often start with.

I once wrote a story about a little girl who was just beginning at high school. She had a younger brother who was profoundly handicapped and his disabilities formed the constraints within which she led her life. I entered it into a competition run by my writers’ club for a children’s story, calling it, A Friend For Kim.

The judge said his wife was a social worker and he’d read the story to her. it made her cry. He had been profoundly moved by it himself, but couldn’t place it on the prize list because it wasn’t a story for children, it was a story about children. The club made me an ex gratia prize award. It remains the work I’m most proud of and I have never been able to place it.

Where did I get the idea? I was waiting to collect one of my sons from the cubs. The boys rushed out. Among the first was a child whose sister was profoundly handicapped. He was full of the joy of his evening, but as he came further out of the hall and into the real world, his face took on the bleak expression of reality. His parents were good and conscientious parents making sure the remaining children of the family had love, attention and opportunities, but there was an inescapable difference between their family dynamic and that of the other children.

It was his despair that was my idea. I nurtured it for years before using it. I crafted it into different circumstances. I’ve never been able to sell it. Editors don’t like non-sentimental work dealing with disability.

Who’s to say they’re wrong?

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4 thoughts on “Where Do You Get Your Ideas? No 1 Real Life Moments

  1. You make an interesting point, here, Anne. Stories for competitions can mirror life completely and be accepted but those for magazine publication usually require an upbeat ending as they are there to entertain the reader. Maybe there is a case for using the experience as a basis for a different story – perhaps one where the experience of the child helps them overcome some other problem – but that does not mean you should not be proud of a story that has the power to provoke such strong emotions.

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    • Hi Ann, I think you’re right about needing an upbeat ending for magazine stories. Actually, the story I wrote did have an upbeat ending too, but the comments were always on the lines of needing to be careful when talking about disability. It’s to one side now, but nothing is ever wasted. Anne

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    • Hi Rosemary, I think you sometimes reach the end in trying to place a piece and have to decide to love it for itself. Curiously, Ann also suggested comps would be more open-minded than market led options. I’ll mulll it over. Anne

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