I conducted a casual poll of authors I know. Yes, I agree it’s not totally balanced and statistically valid, but there were more than a dozen, late at night, at a literary festival, and …they all agreed.
‘Where do you get your ideas? ‘ is the question most asked of any writer. Won by a kilometre from ‘Will you put me in a book?’ or ‘Do you pinch ideas from TV?’. But an author who has more than one publication finds it genuinely difficult to answer, even when readers think they are being polite in asking.
Often the idea hasn’t come from one place. It’s a combination of stimuli. And these days the format in which the book is written in highly relevant. Maybe an e-book? Soon it could be smellovision?
My usual answer is:
From my ideas notebook. Via eavesdropping, stickybeaking, my newspaper clippings file, digital shots, juxtaposing of ideas and asking “What if?". Anecdotal stories, observation of characters and increasingly, choosing a setting where people have varied motives such as airports or Antarctica - and investigating the possibilities, often for a mystery.
I carry a digital camera to shoot ambiguous signs like Disabled Pokies Parking or Dead End near a cemetery. I keep Spirax notebooks where I jot hypothetical ideas based on observed facts such as ‘What if high rise building/water restriction/water police exist … and renters don’t want to get up early to water plants on designated days, and this causes bad feeling in a shared building amongst owner occupiers?’
My weakness is that I don’t date the ideas. I know it would make sense to do so. I just don’t get around to it.
Being a freelance writer is a gamble in itself and publications odds are stacked against us, always. However across the last year I had a private bet with myself about the questions (rather than the answers) and for once I got it 100 per cent right.
On Jan 1st, I wrote down the questions I predicted I would be asked most frequently in my private survey of fan mail by students doing projects. They are:
· When and why did you start writing?
· How do you structure your writing time?
· What is your favourite book and why?
· Do you have any advice on becoming a successful author?
· Who would you most like to meet and why?
· Where do you get your ideas?
· If you hadn’t been a writer what would you have done?
I was right. These were the most commonly asked questions. And they are valid ones, which deserve genuine answers. If you wish, maybe I’ll try and answer those honestly, next week or next month, or … I promise the answers will be honest, but I'm unsure when you’ll get them (procrastination, they didn't ask me about; that was a mistake).
Hazel Edwards is a 2012 National Year of Reading Ambassador and was recently nominated for the 2012 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, along with Jackie French. Head to www.hazeledwards.com for hints and links for aspiring writers.
Don't miss Hazel’s e-book literacy mystery series Project Spy Kids (featuring Hero Art, Hazel's popular 10-year-old ace problem solver) and Frequent Flyer Twins - Asian-Australian 10-year-old sleuths who were inspired by unaccompanied minor travellers. Both these fabulous series are illustrated and designed by Jane Connory (above). See here for more.