The Idea Kitchen – A Guest Post by Justin Swapp

Now that you’ve finished up NaNoWriMo (and if you wrote anything, you were successful) you might find yourself wondering what the heck you’re going to write about next.  Justin Swapp has some answers from you – and no, it’s not a bloody mail-order catalog.


of the most frequently asked questions of writers is, “where do you get
your ideas?”
seemingly innocent, there’s something inherently wrong with that question. The
implication is that there is some magical place that certain writers can steal
away to in order to harvest fantastic ideas. It’s as if they’re asking,
“where’s the mystical portal that takes me to the land of the idea
is no such place. There might be a story there, though. (If you think so, go
write it and post a link in the comments.)
truth is that ideas come from hard work. There, I said it.
believe that there are a few behaviors you can employ to make things easier on
yourself; to help foster your creativity, capture your ideas, and ultimately
harvest more ideas.
1. Get to know yourself and what excites you
to tell a story.
This is more important than you might think. If you
understand what motivates your writing, you’re more likely to uncover ideas
that you are passionate about. You will be more likely to take an early idea,
stick with it, and massage it because it inspires you. Moreover, when you write
you’re more likely to infuse that energy in into your work, and therefore into
your reader. To look at it another way, writer’s block (a shortage of ideas)
can be caused by a simple lack of interest, or by having nothing to say. If you
start with an idea that you are really excited about, you are likely to develop
and help it realize its potential.
a list of your favorite books, and what you liked most about them. Was it a
certain character? What about the character? A particular fight scene? What of
it? A certain plot device? Write these things down. After a careful review, it
may become clear that there are certain things that jazz you about stories.
Find more of that thing, or better yet, write about it.
2. Go get some experiences. Writing ideas
come from connecting the dots; from asking ‘what if?’ questions, and then
exploring the answers. By creating plenty of life experiences, you are
improving your ability to connect things: Places, people, and situations. In
other words: Settings, characters, plots, and that ever-important ‘voice’ that
will make up your writing.
3. Pay attention to what goes on around you,
and collect your observations. It does little to have experiences if you don’t
actually absorb them for what they are.
observant wherever you go. Write what you see (especially what you find
interesting) in a writing journal. Maybe it’s a crazy haircut, or something
flashy someone’s wearing. Perhaps it’s a certain characteristic of an old
building, or a bit of dialogue you overhear someone say. If you carry your
“journal” with you wherever you go, it should be fairly easy. It could be an
app on your smart phone (you carry that with you everywhere, don’t you?) Maybe
it’s a moleskin notebook you keep by your bed at night. Either way, capture your
observations and lock them up in your magical idea book. I’ve had several
things published based on ideas, a sentence or two that I had written down long
before I developed the ideas. As we grow, those old sentences take on new
meaning and become more usable. You do have to capture them, though. If you don’t,
they slip away like sand between your fingers.
4. Twist your ideas around to make them fresh.
Once you’ve written your ideas down, you have to play with them a little, and
massage them. You knead them like bread dough. Depending on your preferred
genre, maybe you torture them. Either way, great ideas are developed with
hard work, not just plucked out of the air.
might be tempted to disregard your more simple ideas in the hunt for the ever-elusive
silver bullet type; that zinger that you just know is a “novel” idea.
Don’t. More often the best ideas start out a bit bland. You add seasoning, cut
them up, and mix them together. Maybe you drown them in boiling water, and
suddenly you have something totally new and appealing.
ideas come from the kitchen. You MAKE them. You collect ingredients, mix them together,
and experiment with new recipes. A master chef is someone who has learned what
he likes, which ingredients compliment each other the best, and how to put them
together in a way that will leave most people satisfied. Writing is no

Justin was born with an active imagination on a U.S. naval base in
Spain, but has spent most of his life in the shadows of the Rocky
Mountains of Utah. He is bilingual, and has lived all over the world. He
has four children; two boys, and two girls, and an enduring wife. He
doesn’t have any pets that he’s aware of, but his children have been
known to hide things under his bed.

Justin is the author of The Magic Shop. He has also been published in
several anthologies, including The Crimson Pact (Volumes 1, 2, and 5),
The Memory Eater, and Short Sips: Coffee House Flash Fiction Collection

In his free time Justin loves to read, write, and play games. He
enjoys his close friends, and loves to make people laugh. To learn more
about Justin, or his work, you can visit him at


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