word craft


2024 Summer Blog Series: Avi

By way of intro­duc­ing my ini­tial book, Things That Some­times Hap­pen, I made my first school vis­it in 1970. I can­not begin to count how many times since then I have made such vis­its. Dur­ing that very first vis­it, I was asked (among many oth­er things) two ques­tions. More­over, the many years I have made such vis­its those two ques­tions were (and still are) always asked.

Where do you get your ideas? What inspired you to write … ?

“Where do you get your ideas?”

“What inspired you to write …………. [fill in the blank].”

I think the two ques­tions are con­nect­ed.

Con­sid­er the word “inspire.” I think for most peo­ple it sug­gests some­thing mys­ti­cal, as if some god-like spir­it, or muse, was whis­per­ing an idea direct­ly into my ear. As if it came from the outside.

light bulb ideas

In fact, “inspire” is Mid­dle Eng­lish, (1340). To quote the Oxford Unabridged Dic­tio­nary, “inspire” (a verb) means “to ‘breathe in’ or infuse (a feel­ing, thought, idea, prin­ci­ple, etc.) into the mind …”

In oth­er words, being inspired is not so much get­ting an idea, as it is the act of giv­ing life to an idea you already have. That means being inspired requires you to have an idea in the first place.

Best writing advice

Which brings us to the sec­ond ques­tion.

I don’t know when my moth­er began to read to us every night, but it had to be ear­ly. Then too, there were lots of books in our house. A book was a reg­u­lar birth­day and Christ­mas gift. I had my own library.

My par­ents want­ed to be writ­ers, and they did so pro­fes­sion­al­ly. My great-grand­par­ents were writ­ers. So too was my grand­moth­er. My aunt. Hard­ly a sur­prise that I was an ear­ly read­er. A vora­cious reader.

The Wind in the Willows

Also, no sur­prise, I decid­ed to become a writer when I was a senior in high school.

The point is this: Read­ing so much gave me a nar­ra­tive mind­set that when I expe­ri­ence some­thing or learn about it, I think of it as a writ­ten sto­ry. I see the world as a sto­ry. So as a writer, one of my prob­lems (not a hard one) is that I have too many ideas. My job — as a writer — is to give life to that idea, and shape that idea into a read­able story.

Hence my mantra: Writ­ers don’t write writ­ing. They write read­ing.

What inspires me? Where do I get my ideas? Read­ing. Read­ing. Reading.

This sum­mer I have asked writer friends and col­leagues to answer these same two ques­tions that I am sure they too are con­stant­ly being asked by young peo­ple — their read­ers.

Join me every Tues­day on my blog to see how they answer.

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