I Don't Know

“I don’t know.” Three words I hate.

I like to know things. I like to see what’s coming. I like plans, schedules, details, routine.

Ducks. In. A. Row. Please and thank you.

And, unfortunately, I’ve passed this need-to-know mentality down my kids. After years of homeschooling, when Mom controlled the what’s, when’s and how’s of each day, they really did think I knew everything. Then we’d go to church, our homeschool co-op, or some extracurricular event, and they’d barrage me with questions. Questions I didn’t know the answer to. For example:

Kid asks why the dolphin show was cancelled at the zoo.

“I don’t know.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m not the one in charge here.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t work at the zoo.” (Though I often felt like I did. Still do…)

“I thought you were in charge of everything.”

“Yes, dear one. They promoted me last week from stay-at-home mom to head marine biologist. I just didn’t tell you yet.”

Several friends have asked me over the last few weeks where I get my ideas from. I grimace inside because...

I don’t know.

The comedian Tim Hawkins puts it best in his routine: Live life. Take notes. Tell Strangers.

Life provides endless material. But that material needs to be reworked into story form to hook, engage and entertain the reader, otherwise, that material is simply a “guess what happened to me today” ten-minute conversation. So where do those ideas come from?

I don’t know.

I’ve mentioned before in The Power of Objects how I’m intrigued with dusty, rusty old treasures and the stories they may hide, so I guess some of my ideas come from garage sales and Goodwill. However, most people don’t kick back after a long day of work or wrestling kids to relax with a Wikipedia, fact-only version of some concrete noun. They want action, emotion, intrigue. But how do I work those objects into a story?

I don’t know.

And I touched on “The Muse” last week. That two-year-old creativity bit of your brain that gets carried away until some adult, rule, or institution comes and tells it, “No dear. You can’t run down the street flapping your arms like a bird, with purple crayons hanging out of your mouth wearing only Daddy’s blue checkered necktie.”

Ask that two-year-old why he did that—or what he was thinking when he did it—and you’ll get a shrug or an “I don’t know.”

At some point, though, he had the idea, acted on it, and, more than likely, had a grand time doing it. And, more than likely, that little one will look up at that big, upset adult and ask, “Why not?”

I do know, however, that I’ve always sought a creative outlet of some sort. Be it through writing or artsy-fartsy endeavors that came and went; a closet-full of scrapbooking supplies gave way to a closet-full of journals, then again to brushes and paints. But time constraints prevented me from fully engaging in any of them until recently.

I’d spent the better part of 15 years homeschooling, but the older my kids got, the less they appreciated the creative bells and whistles of the lessons and just wanted to get the work done. Creative outlet gone.

During that time I also worked as a medical transcriptionist where one cannot, under any circumstance, ever be creative. This work appealed to my ducks-in-a-row need, but not so much to idea generation. Because one cannot, under any circumstance, take ideas garnered through medical transcription and place them into a story. Ever. HIPAA, anyone?

When the writing bug finally bit again, I sat down at the blank screen, cursor blinking at the ready, poised my fingers over the keyboard and…


Where were the ideas? I started and stopped after several attempts and everything I typed sounded like a kindergarten lesson plan or patients’ files dictated to me by the doctors’ voices buzzing in my ears.

So, I signed up for a creative writing course (I’ll touch more on that another time). After a few weeks, those exercises oiled my rusty, stuck idea gears and I found the beginnings of my stride.

To answer the question “Where do you get your ideas?” Take your pick. Life, objects, the muse, those two-year-old gears spinning with no adult supervision?

I’m not sure.

What if the ideas run out? Unlikely, because the last I checked, the planet’s still spinning.

Why keep digging and searching and oiling those idea gears? What’s the point when there’s an endless pile of works out there for readers to enjoy? Isn’t one more story or idea futile in the end?

I don’t know.

But, why not?

Thank you for hanging out for a bit. Check back on the first Friday of every month for a free fictional short, and be sure to visit my Amazon page.