Dear Writer Revisited: Letter Nineteen

Finally, Virginia O'Day comes to the BIG QUESTION.

Where do ideas come from!?

This is a big question because it's impossible to ever completely and satisfactorily answer.  It's different for every writer.  But in this letter, Virginia explains why we all have the potential for great ideas for fiction.  She states that if you are capable of making up fiction and lies then you are capable of fiction.  This idea comes from a quote by the writer Anais Nin, which says:

The important thing is to find the message which liberates, unleashes one's unconscious responses.

Virginia apologises that she cannot be more prescriptive in her explanation, but she does offer a list of exercises for the writer to try if they are stuck, including:

* Picking a word and free-writing
* meditating
* using dreams
* concentrating on one image and using it as a focus (i.e. if you choose tree, you will probably find that you have a thought or a feeling associated with trees you can write about)
* lines from other writers

But most of all, she stipulates that inspiration is really just another fancy way of saying hard work.

There has been a lot of focus in this book so far on writing about memory; I can identify with this kind of writing, because while not all of my short stories are autobiographical, there are many images or conversations or characters even (no I won't say which) that have come from my real life.

What about you?  Do you use your own life as inspiration?


  1. I have used my own life, an interesting and varied career, the opinions of others, social media, overheard conversations, interactions with people in checkout lines ... the list is endless and I find it very amusing to make up short stories about random people that I come across. It makes for even better dreams!

  2. I write autobiographically all the time in fiction. No scenes lifted straight from my life, but snippets, starting points, characters, putting myself in my character's situation by remembering a particular incident. The autobiographical writing blends with the truly made up, hopefully seamlessly, but it's a big part of it. I'm sure most writers do it, even if they think they don't. It enriches one's writing, I believe.


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