Where Do You Get Your Ideas? (Fred White)

Fred White’s Where Do You Get Your Ideas? A Writer’s Guide to Transforming Notions into Narratives
Writer’s Digest Books, 2012

Where Get Ideas Fred WhiteNot many words appear in the title of a book about writing more often than the word ‘idea’.

Normally these aren’t the books that attract my attention first. (I gravitate towards the books with a time-management angle: Bonnie Neubauer’s Take Ten for Writers, Kenneth Atchity’s A Writer’s Time, Louise Doughty’s On How to Write a Novel in a Year.)

But I can’t resist a new book about writing when it appears on the library shelves.

Besides, I had recently picked up a copy of the 10th Anniversary Edition of Jack Heffron’s The Writer’s Idea Book, and had some fun with the prompts, so you might say that I was predisposed to the idea. (Sorry.)

But Fred White’s book is quite different from Heffron’s. Well, as different as two book about writing ideas can be.

Where Do You Get Your Ideas? is rather narrative-heavy, whereas many other books like it (like Heffron’s) are more prompt-heavy.

(This made for good reading at the coffee shop, although after I’d read four chapters, I did flip back to the prompts at the end of the first chapter.)

The first half of the book is devoted to Strategies and the second half to Applications. More general discussion of ideas constitutes the first three chapters, and the fourth begins with a series of “Working an Idea” chapters,  breaking the process into six stages.

“While it is true that there will always be an impenetrable veil of mystery behind some aspects of the creative process, there is nothing mysterious in learning to get ideas and turn them into publishable works.”

Fred White quotes Ursula K. LeGuin, who refers to ideas being shorthand “to stand for the complicated, obscure, un-understood process of the conception and formation of what is going to be a story when it gets written down”.

(Maybe it’s because I’m also predisposed towards LeGuin, but I love this quote. I read it aloud to my coffee-shop mate immediately.)

If you’ve read other books about writing and ideas, you may have come across this quote before, and certainly the ideas in this introductory chapter are familiar. (How many times can we discuss the writer’s notebook and keep the discussion fresh?)

But the author does move beyond the notebook to other ways of generating ideas (brainstorming on paper, free-associating, listing, mapping, creating character profiles, plot outlines/synopses, settings, research notes, drafting) and the first chapter did make me want to read on.

[Side note: The author does refer to ‘writer’s block’ but describes it as being commonly rooted in “what I call premature perfectionism — a kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder whereby every sentence has to be perfectly executed before it even hits the page, every word absolutely le mot juste, every paragraph chiseled out of Carrera marble” — which is an interesting way of looking at it. And, clearly, this could be a barrier with idea generating as well.]

What truly sets this book apart from some others of its kind? The Applications section, which has a contemporary and relevant feel to it, beginning with the first segment in it: Building a Modern Story from an Ancient Myth Step-by-Step.

From Percy Jackson to last year’s Orange Prize winner (Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles) this is a popular concept pulled from recent months’ lists of bestselling novels, and Fred White’s applications definitely contain some sparks for idea-hunters who are looking to light a creative fire.

Good Stuff for Writers.

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