Future pings

One of the questions asked so often at readings that they have become clich’c3’a9s is, Where do you get your ideas? On the one hand, the question is meaningless, because life is a constant inundation of stimulating ideas. On the other, I can understand the puzzlement–however, the question should be rather, How you can pick out of the avalanche of daily life the one seed that can grow an interesting story?

My answer is, you listen for the ping.

The ping is the reverberation set off by an image or a phrase or an idea, that ‘e2’80’9cHmmm’e2’80’a6’e2’80’9d factor that makes it hard to shed. It’e2’80’99s like the original fragment of grit that works its way inside the oyster, and stays.

Sometimes the ping is small, which is why it’e2’80’99s a good idea, especially for new writers, to carry a notebook around and get the ping-idea down before it drifts away. Of course, often when you go back and look at the idea notebook, it seems to be full of the most nonsensical, cold, and dead-end notes, whose primary cause for thought is to make you wonder why you bothered to write it down in the first place.

Which is fine. Any idea that doesn’e2’80’99t jump off the page at you a few days, or weeks, after you put it there probably isn’e2’80’99t powerful enough to have a book coalesce around it. But if you find yourself going back to it, thinking about it at odd times, and particularly linking up other ideas, settings, people with it, there’e2’80’99s your idea for a book.

For example, reading Oleg Steinauer’e2’80’99s posting on Contemporary Nomad, he talks about a site called Future Me, with which you can email yourself or another person at some future date.

Hmmm. (Ping.)

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  1. Chris on June 21, 2006 at 4:07 pm

    That is the perfect answer to the question I have never asked anyone, for exactly that reason!


  2. Erin on June 22, 2006 at 8:37 am

    That sounds like a cool site; I’ll have to check it out.

    My english instructor did something like that for american literature class junior year of high school. She had us all write a letter to ourselves about what we hoped we would be doing in five years and kept the copy we turned in with the intention of mailing it back in five years. I just got mine last month. Totally weird, but in a cool way.

  3. Patricia Mathews on June 22, 2006 at 1:20 pm

    Thanks! I was going through the infamous Pile on the File yesterday including some old notebooks and said to myself “I know these are story ideas, but now they really sound lame.” Last year – last month, even – I would have hung onto them as priceless treasures all the same. Today they went into the shredder along with my bank receipts.

  4. Anonymous on June 23, 2006 at 5:15 pm

    Hmm… does that count for PhD theses, too??? ;0)

  5. Anonymous on June 23, 2006 at 10:26 pm

    Responding to Anonymous who asked about PhD theses — when I was busy not writing my thesis, I kept a list of article ideas, partly to keep myself from researching those ideas, rather than writing, and partly so I would have ideas when climbing the tenure ladder. I stayed out of academia, however, but the article list is still somewhere.

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