Flashback: My Cat Has All the Good Ideas

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Written by: Joan Holub
Date: 12/1/1998

Article

Ask any children’s book author what question they’re asked most often by kids and I’ll bet “Where do you get your ideas?” is number one, or at least close. My quick answer to this question is something like this: “Ideas are the easy part of writing. The hard part is turning an idea into a story with a beginning, middle and a satisfying end (not necessarily a happy ending, but one that ties up all of the loose ends perfectly). It helps to keep an idea notebook, so you aren’t staring at a blank page trying to think of an idea when you have time to begin writing.”

After being asked this same question so often, I sometimes have felt like joking around with answers like: “Ideas are beamed to me from the mother ship.” Or “My cat whispers them to me every Thursday.”

There is no right or wrong way to get ideas, but here are some idea-joggers I have found useful:

1. You’ve heard it before–Keep an idea notebook! Write ideas down when you think of them or you’ll forget them.

2. What simple or complicated things are you curious about? Make a list. Do you wonder why your neighbor always takes his trash out at exactly 3 a.m. while humming the national anthem? Do you wonder why someone would name their child ‘Ima’ when their last name is ‘Bugg’? Brainstorm answers that range from the weird to the ridiculous.

3. Write down situations as you think of them in 1-3 sentences in your idea notebook. They don’t have to be resolved plots. Just idea sparks. For instance, “Ima Bugg is a happy kid until she goes to school and a boy makes fun of her name. She’s embarrassed and mad at her parents. She plots revenge on the world.”

4. Put seemingly unrelated ideas together. In Ivy Green, Cootie Queen, I write about fear of public speaking (oral book reports), cooties, and girls with flower names (Rose, Violet, Lily). I had separate notes about all three things in my idea file and wound up putting them all in one book. I try to think of incongruous joinings of unrelated characters, events and problems that make for weird or silly situations.

5. I’m not sure if this method works for many people, but it sometimes does for me. I write down funny phrases I think of, and if something might make a good title, I try and come up with a story. My Halloween book, Boo Who? A Spooky Lift-the-Flap Book, began with a title.

I’m sure I have more to say on this subject, but it’s Thursday and my cat’s whispering ideas to me again so. . .

Copyright © 1998 by Joan Holub

Lori Soard started Word Museum in 1997. She’s a published author and has written thousands of articles over the years for newspapers, magazines and online. She has a PhD in Journalism and lives in Southern Indiana with her husband. They have two grown daughters, both animal lovers their house is always filled with pets.

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