Where Do Writers Get Their Ideas?

Where do writers get their ideas? Maybe the question should be: where do writers not get ideas?

I signed up for a watercolor class at my local art league. It’s the same art league on which I based the center of intrigue in both The Reluctant Fortune-Teller and Getting Rid of Mabel.

I walked in and met my instructor, a Sicilian American called Carmelo. Carmelo wears his long wavy hair combed back from his forehead. When I told Carmelo that I had stopped taking classes here 25 years ago, he said, “Twenty-five years ago? How old were you then? Four years old?”

“That’s right!” I said. “I’m twenty-nine!”

I knew then that I would enjoy this class.

I told Carmelo and the class that I had to quit art back in the early nineties due to family needs, and have always missed it. I was finally returning. I added that I’d written two books that use that very art league as a setting.

“No way!” exclaimed Carmelo, tapping away at his phone. In a few moments, he’d bought both books, and another student bought one, too. I told the class that the local bookstore around the corner has copies, but instruction was beginning.

Carmelo taught us a watercolor technique. “See this waterfall? Watch. I’ll show you something called fumato. Fumato! It means ‘smoky’ in Italian. Now, watch this!” He pulled a dry brush skillfully down the white paper where the waterfall would be, dragging along just a little of the wet blue sky. He talked as he worked. “Any time you want to make it…what do you call it?… Foggy….What do you call it?… Misty… Fumato, fumato. What’s the word I’m looking for in English?”

“Smoky?” I asked.

“Do you speak Italian?” asked Carmelo in surprise.

“No. You just told us. Fumato means smoky.”

But Carmelo was already moving on.

“Don’t get too anxious about the trees. Have fun, like a child! Look at this! I go: blah-bi-dee-blah-bi-dee-blah! That way, you just relax, like when you were a kid, playing with your paints. Blah-bi-dee-blah-bi-dee-blah!”

I turned to another student and said, “I think I feel another book coming on.”

“Another book?” said Carmelo. “Am I going to be a character in your book? Hey! I like that! You can use my name! And my character can say, ‘Blah-bi-dee-blah-bi-dee-blah!”

“And ‘fuhgettaboudit!'” supplied another student.

“Right!” said Carmelo. “‘Fuhgettaboudit!’ and ‘Bah-da-bing, bah-da-boom!’ That’s what I always say. Ask anybody.”

The next time someone asks me, “Where do writers get ideas for stories?” I’ll answer, “Try your local art league.”

What Did You Leave Behind?

Recently I’ve pulled out of the closet some of those supplies. My painter’s hand is a little rusty, but the memory of color theory, of how to make shadows and reflections, is coming back more each time I sit down and try.


Robert Frost told us about how “way leads on to way” in his poem “The Road Not Taken.” How we tell ourselves at the moment of veering off, “It’s okay. I can always come back.” But Life moves us forward, choices lead to further choices, and we don’t always come back. Not even when the road not taken looked like a beautiful path that promised hours of happiness. Sometimes we just can’t see how to get back there again.

Many years ago, when our home was bursting with children and teenagers, and I had my own 70 square foot studio in the basement, I realized that my three daughters, sharing a 100 square foot bedroom, needed a bit more space. There was only one solution: let one girl have my studio for her bedroom. It was okay: I didn’t feel like a martyr about it. At the time, I wasn’t using the studio very much anyway. Life had become too busy.

I gave away a lot of equipment and art supplies to an alternative school. I couldn’t bear to get rid of everything, so I squirreled away some watercolor paper, brushes, canvasses, and the like in a closet—just in case I should ever “pass that way again.”

That was 20 years ago.

I went on to work in education and social services, and eventually as a psychotherapist and novelist which is my current path. But I’ve never forgotten that special kind of happiness I used to feel in my little studio as I painted.

Recently I’ve pulled out of the closet some of those supplies. My painter’s hand is a little rusty, but the memory of color theory, of how to make shadows and reflections, is coming back more each time I sit down and try.

But in my little writing rom filled with books, writing notebooks, my computer table and printer, there’s no dedicated space set up for painting. And you need a dedicated space.

Last night, on an impulse, I checked Craigslist, in search of a drafting table like the one I gave away two decades ago. I found a vintage one at a bargain price: my signal of affirmation from the Universe if you believe in that kind of thing, and I do.

I’m clearing out everything that doesn’t need to be here in order to make room for art.

And you?

What did you leave behind? What way did you veer off from, telling yourself you’d be back? Is it time to return there?

studio w twinklestudio 2

Above: The “Before” Pictures. More to come….