I’m currently teaching two classes that are unintentionally vexing my students to death. One is intended to make them into editors, the other one into reporters. What vexes them is the simple fact that they can’t seem to come up with stories to write.
Well, that’s not exactly correct. We have planning sessions where I suggest story after story, but none of them seems to appeal to them. A few years ago, the SA newspaper folder and became a magazine with the excuse that “nothing ever happens on campus.”
I disagree. Since that time, I have taken it upon myself to resurrect the campus newspaper, but this time it’s online. And we have published hundreds and hundreds of stories.
Part of the problem is that students see news as either huge earth-shaking events, or scandalous investigative reports. They don’t realize two things: that most stories, even in the dailies, are small stories mostly important to the individuals involved or their neighbors, and that small-town weeklies, the papers that thrive on such stories, are the only newspapers currently making money.
But back to the initial problem. One of the tricks I learned, which editors need to survive, is a mindset that is constantly looking for stories. When I go to the movies, I look for characterization and plot devices and even single lines of dialogue that I can steal and use someday. When I am in a meeting, in the cafeteria, listening to the radio in the car, even (shamefully) listening to my wife, I am looking for ideas.
This skill isn’t learned overnight, but when it is, it will help make your career. For today I hear voices giving me ideas, and find myself making dreams into short stories. Dreams are just the subconscious processing of our daily stimulus, and they aren’t copyrighted. So they are fair game. Often those dreams have the potential to someday become novels as well.
So when someone asks you, Where do your ideas come from? (a badge of honor for any writer), tell them, Everywhere.
Because, if you’re lucky, they do.