I came across a post by Jennifer Blanchard on Better Writing Habits about the various notebooks she feels writers should use. Jennifer has lots of good information on her site, but I have to take issue with one of her recommendations.
…as a writer, you will want to keep a notebook on you at all times, because you never know when you’ll want to write something down. Also, when you keep a notebook with you all the time, you’re showing the Universe that you’re open to ideas, and that in itself will attract more ideas to you.
Now, let me be clear: I absolutely agree that carrying a notebook is a good idea. I carry a Moleskine with me everywhere, and I often jot down ideas for stories, or for scenes in my novel. I also collect names of possible sources, URLs for web sites and blogs to check out, and the like in my notebook. So, Jennifer’s idea that you should carry a notebook? Totally agree.
The place I have a bit of an issue is with her suggestion that the problem most writers face is inability to attract enough ideas. Because, frankly, most writers I know have exactly the opposite problem.
I write crime fiction, and for me, ideas are everywhere. Turn on the TV news, open a newspaper magazine, and ideas fly at you by the dozens. Heck, a walk through a mall or a half hour of people-watching at a train station can easily produce ideas. I imagine the same is true for other kinds of writers, because ultimately fiction is about human thought and behavior, and humans are everywhere.
The trick, though, is in the filtering. It’s not in attracting a zillion new ideas, it’s in knowing which ones have enough energy, enough mass, enough momentum to sustain a short story, a novella, a novel. And, it’s about knowing which ideas you personally care about enough to write.
I recently had coffee with a writer friend, and I gave him four ideas for pieces of a novel he’s working on. I didn’t feel bad about “giving away” these ideas, because I had no desire to write them and they fit in with my friend’s novel. So, share and share alike. Besides, as anyone who’s done a writing prompt knows, twenty writers could start with the same idea and produce twenty completely different stories.
Ideas are like oxygen: They’re everywhere, and no one writer can use them all. Capture the ideas that strike a chord with you, and write the ones that spark your creative fire. If you’re reasonably attentive, if you care about the world you live in, a shortage of ideas won’t be one of your problems. If you’re paying attention, the problem will be having too many ideas and not enough time to pursue them all.