February 3, 2016

Writing Tips from RRR – WHERE DO YOU GET IDEAS?


I get a lot of awesome letters from my readers, and I’m always so excited when someone tells me Dork Diaries has inspired them to write their own stories. Often, I get asked for writing tips, and one of the top questions is, “Where do you get ideas??”

If you’ve written to me or read any interviews with me, you probably already know this: I get most of my ideas from the hilarious real-life experiences of my two totally dorky daughters, Erin and Nikki. They’re adults now, but when they were in middle school, they had crushes, bullies, BFFs, and all sorts of ups and downs that are now reflected in the pages of the Dork Diaries books.

“That’s great for you, Rachel,” you might be thinking. “But, I’m still in middle school! I don’t have two daughters providing me with ideas! I haven’t lived a whole life yet! So, where should I get ideas?”

Here’s the thing—ideas are EVERYWHERE! Most experienced writers (like me!) have no shortage of ideas. Usually, they have more ideas than they can ever possibly use. But, it’s not because they’ve had a longer life, or because they have kids supplying them with ideas, or even because they have some special talent that you don’t.
Nope! Ideas are everywhere, and the only thing I have that you might not is a bit more practice in noticing ideas when I see them. This is something you can learn to do, too! Soon, you will have more ideas than you know what to do with.

But, where are all of these ideas? How do you find them? I’ve got a few hints…

:star: Keep a diary…

I mean, I obviously had to start with that one, right? Keeping a diary like Nikki’s is great for so many things, and one of them is remembering the funny things that happen to you, the weird things, the sad things—and also the way you felt when these things happened. When you’re trying to come up with an idea for a story, a great place to start is by going through your diary and looking for the past events you have a strong emotional response to—whether that’s tears or laughter.

:idea: Wonder what if…

A big part of being a storyteller is having an active sense of wonder. If you’re still growing up, you’re ahead of the game—kids are generally better at wonder than adults. If you’re not naturally curious, it’s something you can build. Take the time when you learn new things, meet new people, or see something interesting on the street to wonder. Learn about earthquakes…and wonder what would happen to your family if a major earthquake hit your town. Meet someone who builds model airplanes…and wonder what would happen if their model airplanes suddenly started flying around the room on their own. See a boy and girl having an argument across the street…and wonder if they’re siblings or friends or crushes and what their argument is about and how it will be resolved. Ideas are truly everywhere you turn!

8D Observe people…

As suggested above, the people around us can provide some of the richest material for our stories. These might be people you already know, like I’ve found inspiration in my kids and the kids they grew up with. There might also be people you never speak to but who pique your interest. Maybe there’s an old man you always see working in his garden when you walk home from school, or a kid on your bus with a super unique sense of style, or a cashier at the grocery store who never stops talking. Notice people, and jot down notes about them. Even if you don’t think of a story the moment you see them, you never know when they might turn into a character in a story down the line.

:) Pay attention to current events…

I know, “current events” sounds like something teachers go on and on about in school. But world events can really feed your creativity! I’m not just talking about things like wars and politics, either. In the last couple months, you might have read in online news about  a) the discovery of water on Mars (which is an indication that living creatures of some sort could possibly live there—and that could lead to a cool sci-fi story!),  b) the story of an aquarium coral that when exposed to the air releases a toxic gas that can kill a person who inhales it—a mystery in the making! Or  c) the discovery of a South African plant that makes seeds that look and smell exactly like antelope poop in order to fool dung beetles. I don’t even know what kind of story you might write about that, but someone should write something!

Those are just some of the ways you can find ideas. The blank page can seem intimidating, but once you get into the habit of noticing ideas, the problem will be finding time to write them all. I hope this helps!

Where do you get YOUR ideas, and what type of story would you like to write?

Please post your comments below.