I rank this question up along with â€œHow do you learn all those lines?â€ when I was the actor. It was a question actors dreaded, but I rarely think we were asked it when we had a â€œMeet & Greetâ€ with the audience. Itâ€™s a fair enough question, though; and since I never got it when I was an actor, Iâ€™ll answer it here. â€œRehearsal and repetition.â€ Thatâ€™s the key in learning your lines, be it for a play, a presentation, or for a very important one-on-one you have on your books.
Now, as a writer, the ideas question tends to be the one that earns an eye-roll, but I donâ€™t think itâ€™s fair. People are genuinely curious how authors come up with what they put down on paper. Maybe itâ€™s because they wonder how someone can think up Victorian secret agents investigating the unknown, or a dwarf-detective solving crimes in the Prohibition Era; and itâ€™s a sincere question. I know that when Iâ€™ve read books I love, or enjoyed an episode of Almost Human or True Detective, I marvel at the air tight dialogue or incredible situations these talented writers come up with and wonder what drives them. Itâ€™s good to know where ideas come from and what makes them happen because inspiration keep you busy as a writer.
If there was a magic bullet in finding great ideas, it actually ties back to a trick I had with acting: Pay attention. The world around you is teeming with ideas, and inspiration can happen at any time. With technology, jotting ideas down has been made insanely easy, so now instead of carrying around the writerâ€™s notebook, journalâ€”or ledger as The Taxman doesâ€”you can whip out the smartphone and take notes. Whatâ€™s key though in finding inspiration is paying attention to whatâ€™s around you. Many times, thatâ€™s all you need to get an idea going.Â
Case in point, today the third season of Tales from the Archives launched; and Iâ€™m particularly proud of this story that Pip and I put together as it came from the unlikeliest of places: church. Now church is probably not the place where I should be in â€œWriterâ€™s Modeâ€ but Trinity Episcopal of Manassas prides itself on being a different kind of church. This particular day, Dennis Reid, was giving a sermon on Judas Iscariot; but not the kind of sermon you would think. He said something that struck me hard:
â€œYou know, I think Judas got a bum rap.â€
Something about that observation clicked, and I found myself Â quickly tapping out a few notes on my iPhone…
- What would drive one of Jesusâ€™ confidants to betray him?
- What kind of guilt drives someone to suicide?
- What happened to the silver after Judas committed suicide?
Typing out all this was pretty amazing as I was getting nudged (repeatedly) by Pip during all this, but type it out I did.
But hereâ€™s the thing about ideas â€” ideas are cheap. Ideas are not books. Ideas are not short stories. Ideas are not scripts. Ideas are the starting point. The first step. From here, you have to move on the idea, make time for it, and get to work. With the notes I managed to get down in church, I pitched the idea to Pip and then we got to work.
And here you are â€” the result of that unassuming sermon at Trinity Episcopal Church which inspired the opening short story to the thirds season of Tales from the Archives.
So where do these ideas come from? Just about anywhere, provided you pay attention. What you do with that inspiration, though, all resides with what you do next. What your next step?
As for me, I need to sit down with PJ Schnyder and have a serious talk about beef jerky and bulletsâ€¦