Where Do You Get Your Ideas?: A Writer’s Guide To Transforming Notions Into Narratives, by Fred White
In some ways, a book like this is superfluous for me to read. As my longsuffering readers will note, I have no shortage of ideas as a writer, as someone who has written narratives on subjects as diverse as pocket lint  and volcanology . Yet even if someone like me does not usually lack for ideas to write about, I still consider this book a worthwhile example of my trade reading, sort of like continuing self-education . So, with that in mind, I approached this book as someone who generally does pretty well at turning ideas into narrative nonfiction–usually of the personal essay variety–but wanted to know if there was anything more I could do, and if the author had any tricks of the trade to share, and I have to admit I was pleased with this book. It was certainly not a perfect book and my own approach is different than the author’s, but this was definitely a worthwhile book and not time wasted. There are likely many others would appreciate this book and gain even more from it.
This book, at a bit over 200 pages, is a fairly standard length for a book, and it is divided into two parts. The first part of the book is theoretical in nature and takes the fist nine chapters. In this part of the book the author introduces the need to come up with ideas, discusses where to look for them and how to recognize them, and how to get ideas out of the blue. After this he spends a good deal of time looking at the stages of working with an idea from free association to listing, mapping, profiling, and illustrating, to preparing an outline and synopsis, to developing ideas through research, to writing a first draft, to the fine art of revision. At this point the book turns to a more practical angle, where the author encourages the reader to apply the theory of the first part. The author discusses how to build a modern story from an ancient myth step-by-step, how to create a short story from a newspaper report, how to center a memoir on family memorabilia, how to structure a novel around a symbol or event, provides seventy-five seminal ideas for novels, and concludes with some reflections on working with ideas. It would be a poor reader indeed who would not read this book and come up with at least a dozen great ideas for essays, stories, or full-length projects, or at least a few tips on how to improve the process of developing ideas and refining one’s writing.
This book is a successful example of someone taking an area of expertise and expanding the number of people who are helped by it. The author, as a writing coach of people who struggle to turn their ideas into narratives, is well equipped for the task. He frequently urges people to overcome their inner perfectionist and start by getting writing on paper (or computer screen) while resisting the urge for premature lopping and cropping. To be sure, different people have different issues or concerns when it comes to writing. Some people struggle to write anything and must develop the habits of observing the world and being reflective that generate creative ideas. Others must develop the discipline of writing out those narratives and getting to completion, while still others must refine those writings and improve them through editing. Whatever the stage we are at as writers, though, we can always stand to hone our skills and add some techniques to our toolboxes and to find inspiring ideas for future writings, and this book certainly accomplishes its task of encouraging writers to turn their ideas into larger narratives.
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