Kathryn Page Camp
Some writers have trouble coming up with ideas. I have the opposite problem. I have computer files filled with potential story lines, and my challenge is deciding which one to use next.
So where do they come from? Many of my ideas are generated by what is happening around me. I’m not as good an observer as many writers are, but I see enough. A good story line comes when I watch strangers interacting or read a newspaper article and ask questions: What makes them act like that? What will happen next? What if the facts were changed?
Sometimes my ideas come from reading books with similar themes. The idea for my first middle-grade historical novel, which I am now circulating to publishers, came from reading Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston. Their book introduced me to our infamous actions toward Japanese Americans living on the west coast during World War II. But those events are quickly fading into history and losing their impact. So I wondered what it would be like to write a story that brought children into the experience and kept them from forgetting it.
But maybe you would rather hear it from a widely-published writer. Phyllis Reynolds Naylor is one of Indiana’s best-known children’s authors, and her works include the Newberry winning Shiloh. She also wrote How I Came to Be a Writer, which is a memoir for middle-grade readers. She describes how she gets her ideas in a chapter called “The Things That Make Me Up.”
Many of her ideas come the way some of mine do—from reading the newspaper and observing the world around her. But what does she do when they don’t flow? Here is her answer from How I Came to Be a Writer.
I found it helpful then to just sit down in a quiet place and get reacquainted with myself. What things were important to me? What did I know so well I could almost write about it with my eyes closed?
So if you are having trouble coming up with ideas, don’t panic. Watch the world around you. Read. And if that isn’t successful, find a quiet place and think about what matters to you.
It works for Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.
Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal was a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection for April 2014. The second edition of Kathryn’s first book, In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion, was released on September 30, 2015. You can learn more about Kathryn at www.kathrynpagecamp.com.