Thursday, January 5, 2017

Stalking the Wild Ideas

by Sue Heavenrich*

There’s a Storystorm going on over at Tara’s blog all month long – an opportunity to brainstorm ideas and get into the habit of jotting them down. I started off with a bang: lined up my row of shiny sharpened pencils, cracked open the spine of my spiffy new composition book, and wrote down a few ideas. But day #2 – not so good. What’s a writer to do when the ideas won’t come?

Thing is, ideas don’t just fall off trees. Sure, some might pop up like mushrooms in your lawn after a week of rain. But most ideas – well, you’ve gotta go after them. Fortunately you won’t need a reflective orange vest or camo yoga pants, but I still take along the essentials: string, pocket knife, butterfly net, thermos of hot tea, and enough chocolate to last three days in case I get caught in a blizzard (it’s winter in these parts).
Hunting ideas is like hunting any other wild game – you’ve got to learn everything you can about their habits, preferred food, and migration patterns. One of the best ways to locate an idea is by what it leaves behind: its tracks, scat, and other sign such as feathers, fur, scrapes and rubs. Some ideas mark their territory using scents; others build fanciful bowers decorated with candy wrappers and chipped tea cups. Ideas communicate using different calls and songs, so you’ll need to learn those, too.

If you’re going to head off on an idea safari, you should know how to read a map, so you won’t get lost. Although, as one of my friends said, holding the map upside down sometimes reveals the path.

There are many ways to capture ideas. One hunter told me that the best way is to get up before dawn while the ideas are still bedded down, and sneak up on them. Another simply stalks them. I like to swish a sweep net back and forth, but that tends to capture only the winged ideas. You may need to dig them out if they are hibernating under the snow. You can also set traps, baiting them with the sorts of things ideas like (chocolate, coffee, wine, hot dogs). Snares are best; deadfall traps tend to squash whatever they fall on.

Once you capture your idea you need a place to keep it. Most writers use some sort of journal, but you can easily tape them to index cards and toss them in a box, or press them into a scrapbook (like some people do with fairies), or even collect them in a jar. Some writers accession each idea, listing it in an index so they can find it later or filing it in an old card catalog acquired from a library that has gone digital.
As you prepare to head out into the wilds, here’s a quick list of places you might look for ideas:

  • Newspaper and radio stories – Science Friday (NPR) is a great source of nonfiction ideas
  • Magazines – next time you’re trapped in a doctor’s office or airplane, hunt for some ideas
  • Websites – WiseGeek,, and On This Day
  • Lists – if you need ideas check out 20 Things the Dog Ate and Listverse
  • Library – wander through the shelves and jot down titles. Even those you misread might jiggle loose some ideas
  • Art museums and galleries – great places for field trips
  • Eavesdropping on conversations – kids, adults, loggers coming in for coffee and pie
  • Road signs and street names – like Blueberry Hill
  • Horoscopes
  • Fortune cookies – sometimes ideas are curled up inside
  • Songs and poetry
  • Photos
  • Story cubes and magnetic poetry tiles
  • “Weird but True” books
  • Boxes of photos, stamps, coins or other treasures
  • Places where children play
  • In the backyard, or a garden, a weedy patch along the roadside
  • Need more? Check out this post from a couple years ago.

 Good Hunting!
*Thank you to all the GROGGERS who shared ideas and photos! 


  1. I love the entertaining way you've taught us how to stalk ideas. Great list for writers and the web sites will help others, too. Thanks, Sue. I'm a-stalking.

  2. So enjoyable and informative. You have a way with words. Thank you.

  3. Love the analogy...ideas are out in the wild...we have to get out from under our own comfortable perches and discover them. Thanks!

  4. Such a well written post filled with numerous ideas to gather story ideas.

    Happy Hunting for writing inspiration. Thank you, Sue.

  5. This is so much fun! Wonderful post, Sue!

  6. I just want to thank all the GROGGERS who contributed their thoughts and ideas to this!

  7. After reading this post, Sue, I have this itching desire to find & don an Elmer Fudd cap. Or a safari cap. Or maybe a Sherlock cap. Or "what if..."

    So many possibilities! So much happy hunting! Thank you!

  8. Love the analogy. Thank you for the resources!

  9. Love this post so much ! I will wander out today in search of ideas in a faery wood

  10. Thanks for sharing these great ideas :)

  11. It will be fun to follow these great links!

  12. Thanks for the ideas to help find new ideas!