From Jennie Nash's newsletter:

I shared with you recently that I’m playing around with something that I think is going to become a novel. The process of “coming into being" for this idea has been really S-L-O-W. I can see it shimmering on the horizon, trying to come into focus. I know the idea is gathering speed or heat because I am experiencing the really strange phenomenon that always happens to me, which is where I suddenly see and hear things related to my idea EVERYWHERE – on the radio, in the newspaper, when friends tell me about this funny thing that happened the other day.

I think you can make this part of the creative process go faster – by making time for that synchronicity to happen, by making time to stare out at that horizon, and by paying close attention to the sparks and flashes in your brain. You can get to a point where a story flashes through your brain and you just SEE it and GRAB it and then CLAIM it. It’s largely about awareness.

Today, I wanted to share with you three fun stories of how that flash of story – the origin moment of story – can happen in an instant.

1. A Classic – From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler by E.L Konigsberg

Do you guys remember this book from your childhoods or your children’s childhoods? A girl who is disgruntled with her lot in life convinces her little brother to run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they get caught up in an art mystery, and end up meeting a quirky old lady who gives them the key to being able to go home again. It’s such a fabulous story (it won a Newbery in 1997), with a really interesting structure. I have always loved it.

What I love even MORE is the story of how this story came into being. The author was at the Met. Behind the velvet ropes, on a velvet chair that was clearly off limits, she saw a piece of popcorn – and BOOM! She imagined a child secretly living in the luxurious surroundings and then she immediately began thinking of the WHY. Why would a child run away to the Met? Why would she have left home? Why would .she return? That’s how the story started.

You can read Konigsberg telling this story in her own words HERE.

2. The Follow-Up to a Bestseller – "After This" by Claire Bidwell Smith

I heard Smith give a reading and talk at {pages}: a bookstore in Manhattan Beach last week. Smith became famous when her memoir, "The Rules of Inheritance," came out several years ago – and it looks like that trajectory will continue, since Jennifer Lawrence is set to star in the movie. In "Rules," Smith tells the story of losing both her parents to cancer when she was 25 years old. After This is an exploration of what happens when people die – an exploration of the afterlife in all its many forms. Smith is a therapist and a grief counselor, so the book has a special depth to it. (I haven’t read EITHER of these books, but I bought them both last week and they are on my To Read list….)

At {pages}, Smith told the story of when she decided to write "After This." It went something like this:

She was finishing up the work on the "The Rules of Inheritance," and thinking about a promise she’d made to a young friend of hers who had died of cancer. (This woman has suffered a lot of loss….) The promise was that she would go see a famous medium to try to contact the friend. Smith was in the shower one day when she suddenly realized that not only was she going to fulfill the promise, but she would write about it, too. She got out of the shower, wrapped herself in a towel and went out to the back patio to where her husband and kids were playing. She asked her husband to take her picture to capture the moment when the new book idea came into her head.

I loved this story and asked if she had the photo. She laughed and said it turned out not to be appropriate for public sharing – towel, shower. That made me like the story even more.

3. The First-Time Writer's First Idea

My client Emma recently took a 4-day intensive class with me at the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program. One of the exercises we do in that class is to DRAW a picture of our stories. I bring colored paper, a ton of pens. Some people hate this exercise, of course – What do I draw? I can’t draw? I don’t get it! – but for other people, it tends to crack open their knowing and they can suddenly SEE their story. That’s what happened to Emma. She drew a picture of the Africa she wanted to write about, and suddenly her story became crystal clear to her – what it was really about, how it must be told.

BUT she accidentally left the drawing behind in her hotel room when she went home at the end of the workshop. She realized this when she arrived home – after a taxi, an airplane, a drive home. She was devastated and called the hotel, frantically describing the photo, and saying it was a critically important piece of paper. The people at the hotel found the picture, and mailed it to her. Emma made a kind of altar with this photo (that's the picture at the top of the page) and she keeps it in the place where she is writing – to remind her of the moment when she captured her story and pinned it to the page. (See drawing below.)

What I love about Emma's story is that she recognized her moment of origin and used it to take the next brave steps in the story writing process. You have to make your brilliant idea REAL, after all! You have to bring it to life. Near the altar  with the drawing is the Post-It map Emma made of the story, according to my How to Edit Your Own Work manuscript. (I often teach that process for sketching out a story as well as for editing it….) It’s a beautiful image so I’m sharing a picture of that, below, as well. It's how you go from inspiration to story: designing a structure then writing it, step by step.

The lesson? Be open to story. Be aware of the ones that call to you. And when you see them or hear them or catch a flash of them, do whatever you can to capture them. They’re gold!