How to encourage the germ of an idea

The last pages were revised again and finally the novel went out on submission. I celebrated by reorganizing my office… adding a bookshelf donated by a family member (who gives away bookcases???) and clearing off my desk. Meanwhile, the smidgeon of a new idea was beginning to germinate.

Like most of my novels-in-the-making, it began with a recurring image. I mulled over its meaning, its potential, and acknowledged growing enthusiasm. But it wasn’t at the word-spilling stage quite yet. It needed encouragement.

On the weekend I took my camera and wandered down to my quiet place… the marsh at the west end of our property. It’s a good place to do some thinking.


There’s been a lot written about the plotting, writing, revising and submitting processes, but not much about pre-writing. Creativity doesn’t happen by itself. Great ideas don’t appear at our bidding and leap onto a page. They need an environment conducive to their development.

Last spring I posted about a different trip to the marsh. That day greens filled with seasonal newness inspired me. I followed Julia Cameron’s suggestion to “stand a little outside the flow of hurried time” and declared an hour off limits from the demands of the day, hoping to be inspired by “whispers of the divine”.

The marsh presented a different face this time. The only greens were in faithful hemlocks, spruce and cedar and the ever-defiant salal. Fog hovered over frosted gold and brown, and the water waited beneath fragile ice. It wasn’t cold out. In the sunshine it was almost ten degrees celsius, but chill settled into shadowy places with shivery persistence.


No billows of pristine snow beautified winter’s barren branches and lifeless weeds. The only beauty was in the still brilliance of Saturday’s sunshine. I breathed deeply. Not a single bird distracted. I let an idea percolate.


Back indoors I reached for my pen and journal. Rather than scribble a too-frequent litany of what I’d seen, I wrote what I had felt… what the stillness infused. It was free writing… nothing to do with the story-building image, but those tumbling thoughts triggered excitement.


Like a seed, the idea has split open and a sprout is emerging. I don’t fully recognize it yet — it will need to develop more — but words are whispering. There’s rustling in the underbrush of a story waiting to grow.

A question for fellow writers: how do your new ideas come to you?

~  ~  ~


Published by Carol

A freelance writer of fiction and non-fiction living on the West Coast of Canada.

11 thoughts on “How to encourage the germ of an idea

  1. Your writing is beautiful, as are your photos, Carol.
    Nature soothes and inspires me. Just to get outside and watch and listen to the world – nature – around me is fantastic.

  2. This is lovely… and inspiring. Often I’ll do a similar thing of writing what was felt. My problem is I give up too soon, I think. I don’t give all those thoughts room or time to develop…time for the seed to germinate. Thank you for sharing your wisdom 🙂

  3. That’s a really tough question because it’s never just one thing. Ideas come to me in different ways. I’ve been inspired by something someone has said, articles I’ve read in the paper, or in the news, people. Nature is also inspiring. (I love your photos BTW.)

    And congratulations for getting your novel submitted. That’s a first big step. 🙂

  4. New ideas come in so many ways it is hard to pinpoint it. I tend to need to be around people to be inspired. For me activity creates ideas, Your pictures and descriptions are so beautiful, I had to read them twice. I’m sure this comes through in your novels too.Good luck with your novel submission.

  5. I like how you did thus…encouraged the ideas to flow by going to a favorite place. I think we need to do that between books. I do anyways. You asked where we get ideas…I really don’t know but I think mine come from feelings about people.

  6. I really enjoyed reading this post, Carol. Poetic, and beautiful prose. I believe that setting aside some unhurried time at a place of peace and solitude can reward us with some insights and creative ideas that might escape us elsewhere. It’s a form of meditation that opens the mind. As for myself, I sometimes get inspired meeting a particularly interesting or unusual, or in some way noteworthy person. I speculate about their life and come up with all kinds of scenarios and ‘what if’s’. Another source is looking at old photos – not from my computer, but old albums that have that peculiar old paper smell to it. It opens a floodgate of memories that sometimes produce a precious germ of an idea. Congrats on getting your novel out!

  7. Thanks to each of you for sharing your thoughts and what helps you to develop a new idea. There are probably as many different ways as there are writers looking for them. 🙂

  8. Lovely example of how our surroundings can reveal what’s been dormant in us for some time. This reciprocal relationship hides little triggers that get us going. Maybe it was the tiny ice crust that gave way to water underneath to demonstrate that all you need is a different light. A change of perspective. Stepping out of the stream of the mundane to make the leap. Hope it will fill the pages now.

  9. You’ve done it again (you always do) dear friend! And your blogs are fantastic! I still remember how hesitant you were when I suggested you sit yourself down and write! SEE! told you so. And, by the way, I’d like a calendar made up of your photos!!!Just something else to keep you busy :))

  10. Thanks, Julie and Earlene. And yes, Earlene, you did tell me. I would never have tackled fiction without your encouragement. But a calendar???

  11. Hi Carol,

    The moment where an idea forms is critical to the overall process of writing a novel. I’m glad you addressed the subject.

    The inspiration for my first novel came at a time when I was writing non-fiction. My late husband and I visited Gettysburg town square at Christmas. While there, I “heard” the voices of the forefathers as fading echoes. From that brief moment came the books I’m writing, two of which have already been published. 🙂

    Susan 🙂

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