Flashes and foraging: where story ideas come from

I was reading this interesting little article a while back about the flashes of inspiration that triggered 10 authors to pen their most classic works. The article really focuses on novels that arose out of a spontaneous image or idea that popped into the author’s head. Perhaps the most dramatic was Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s inspiration for 100 Years of Solitude. His sudden insight prompted him to turn his car around and drive his family home to work on his new book instead of continuing towards the beach vacation they’d been headed for.

Now, I recognize that many stories are born that way–bolts of lighting unexpectedly sent from Above, and so on–and it has certainly happened to me before. An editor will select a topic for me to write on (1200-1400 words by next Thursday on this theme, please!) and I’ll sit stumped about how to approach it in some way that isn’t stale and predictable. Hours (or days) later, I’ll try to get back to sleep after someone’s car alarm has gone off and–zing!–HaShem will pop an idea into my brain. (Insert here a sound effect to emphasize the moment.) Sometimes, a detail of a conversation or picture in a book will provoke an entire story to arise almost fully formed from my imagination, with little effort on my part. Yes, this does happen.

Most of the time, however, I forage for ideas. I’ll flip through science news for a new discovery or technology that sounds too impossible to be true. I’ll read three novels all of the same genre or subject, and then compare them. I’ll snip articles out of my HaModia or Mishpacha or Ami. I’ll browse the pages of my journal for wacky things my kids do or things kids fight about, or scribble clusters of words that a topic evokes from my mind.

Once I collect these ideas, they require careful combination. At times the way to do this comes through hard work, strategically arranging plot elements based on the needs of the assignment. Other times, I sit and contemplate them and then let the ideas sorta drift together until something sounds right. I’ll meld a new technology with a situation my children recently dealt with. I’ll transport the subplot from a novel I liked into a fantastic setting, then give it a different ending. Sometimes, after sampling the rough draft, I’ll recognize there’s a missing ingredient and have to hunt around for something that adds just the right flavor. It’s not like there’s no Heavenly assistance involved…it’s just a lot more dramatic, with more input on my part.

In the HaModia Sukkos 5773 story supplement (out today!), you’ll find a piece by yours truly that was generated in just such a way. Discovering that earthbound scientists will likely be exploring new planets via remote-controlled robots, I filed it away for future contemplation. (This isn’t the original article, but it was about the same subject.) After a lot of publicity last winter and spring about how the internet and smart technologies affect human relationships, I revisited the initial idea and found a way to blend the two concepts into an entertaining (I hope!) sci-fi story. I’m hoping the readers enjoy it. It will be my first piece for adults in a magazine with an international circulation!

Good news and a helping Hand

Great news! My short story, “What Do You Really Want?” appears in this week’s Binah BeTween, the tween supplement of Binah Magazine! It’s available at Jewish bookstores and newstands nationwide. This is my first appearance in that magazine, making it especially exciting for me.

It’s also the story I’ve written on the shortest deadline (other than an academic paper). It proved quite harrowing, because the six days I was given included both Shabbat and the time difference between L.A. and Israel. However, baruch HaShem (thanks to the Source, G-d), the delay ended up working in my favor. Because I started work before the editor got back to me about what genre she preferred (it was Shabbat in Israel, but not here)…the resulting fantasy story was not what she planned, and at first I panicked. Thank G-d, the editor ended up thinking my unexpected approach worked out beautifully and accepted it after all. I hope all of you like it, too.

This leads me to contemplate how much I owe to Heavenly Assistance. When I was offered that piece on a short deadline, I had no idea where I wanted the story to go until an idea “just popped” into my head. Likewise, I was offered another job more recently. The deadline was much farther off, but I still needed to get an idea and get cracking. G-d aligned all sorts of experiences and conversations on the very theme that the editor had selected. Other times, I’ve awakened at 5 o’clock in the morning with the perfect solution to my stalled Work In Progress.

A rabbi once explained to me that the reason people like Dovid HaMelech (King David) were able to accomplish so much was because they knew their own limits and that their ultimate success depended entirely on G-d. They trusted in His assistance and the endowments He gave them (acknowledging the Source of those endowments) to accomplish things most people would give up on. I’m not on that level, but there are times when I look back and go, “How did I do that!” and know I didn’t do it on my own.

Does anyone else out there feel like G-d gives them the final push to get them to their goals?

Identifying Your Life’s Mission

Identifying Your Life’s Mission

The above article (by Sara Yocheved Rigler and appearing this week on Aish.com) explains how to find your “tafkid,” that little sliver of the world that constitutes your mission in life. I encourage you to read it before Rosh HaShanah. I found it very inspirational and the perfect complement to a shiur I attended over the weekend.
Rabbi Simcha Weinberg was visiting our shul over this Shabbos. At seudat shlisheet, he explained that the Yomim Noraim (the Days of Awe) are the when we should not only think about what we’ve done wrong in the past year, but what would it look like if we did it right in the year ahead. He suggested that we should not imagine what we want, but what HaShem’s dream is for us. What does He want from us? Then we can establish some steps to take to get us there.
Of course, He wants us to make peace with other Jews (including family members!). Of course, He wants us to improve in how we follow his mitzvot.
But He also wants us to be the best people we can be, using our talents and skills. The article by Sara Yocheved Rigler will inspire you to do just that. What gets you excited about life? How can you use that talent and passion to improve your family, your community, your world?