Unusual Places for Plotting Ideas

Michelle Ule


Blogger: Michelle Ule, filling in for Mary Keeley who is traveling this week.

Where do your best plotting ideas come from?

I, for one, get some of my best plotting ideas while sitting in the pew at church.

Is this a Satanic effort to distract me from the teaching?

Or is my soul going into overload while worshiping, and so God feels free to speak to my mind with plotting ideas?

A lot of times a great idea occurs while I’m singing–usually the praise songs, not the hymns.

(That may be the result of the theological content of hymns versus praise songs. You can argue that on your own.)

All I know is, I make use of the convenient little pencils in the pew rack and scribble notes onto my bulletin almost every week.plotting ideas

The picture at right is a good example of what my bulletin looks like by the time I get home from church every Sunday. (I could plead for more white space in the bulletin, but that feels like cheating.)

This particular Sunday included plot points for my current novel, writing ideas for blog posts (five!), a reminder to contact a friend, and Google search information for a subject I’m covering in the story (that came from the sermon).

I scribble them down so I can remember them and continue to worship. One little note, and then I’m back in the service singing with the rest of the congregation. No one knows except the people sitting on either side of me, and they’re usually too polite to ask.

Is it rude to scribble plotting ideas during church?

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Like many of you, the twists turn up at odd times, often when I’m not even thinking about my manuscript.

I can’t guess how many sudden brilliant plotting ideas turn up while I’m in the shower.

Or driving the car home from Zumba (do you suppose this is a result of extra blood to the brain?).

I carry a pad and pen in my purse to scribble down the thoughts so I don’t lose them.

I once spent an day traveling through northern Italy writing out the entire back story for a character in a book I was plotting. (No surprise, he was Italian).

A recent one came to me while waiting in line at the car wash. By the time the car was clean, I had the novella outlined. Amazing.  Even to me!

This morning while a little bored in Zumba, I came up with an entire idea, some back story and a list of questions to ask an expert in the class with me. Maybe it is increased blood flow to the brain?

Share with us some of the unusual spots you’ve been in when inspiration struck.

(And did anything ever come of it?)


Do church services inspire writing ideas? Click to Tweet

Where are you physically, when plotting ideas tend to prick your mind? Click to Tweet

Bonus question: Do you get more writing ideas from praise music or hymns? 🙂 Click to Tweet

49 Responses

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  1. Nothing wrong with writing down ideas you get in church; passing them up might well be disobedience to God.

    I get ideas while taking care of the dogs, usually in one part of the yard (SE corner), the Pit Bull Potty Place (where two of the Pits like to ‘go’).

    Interesting to me that it’s localized, and that while ideas might come in other spots, only this area is connected with the really critical plotting inspirations.

    • Michelle Ule says:

      Curious how the mind works, isn’t it? Maybe there’s something else in that corner that inspires–the view up?

  2. How fun to read of all the places where you get ideas, Michelle! I find that blog posts sometimes come to me during our church services, often in worship. Sometimes I have to sit and write my heart’s response to something God’s showing me. I have had two characters argue in my head during the sermon once. Yes, I scribbled down their words as fast as my fingers would move. 🙂

    I’ve gotten ideas in the shower and while driving. Not much I can do while in the shower, though I try to remember them so i can write them down as soon as I get out. When I’m driving, I use the recording device on my phone the flesh out the ideas so I don’t forget them.

    My first book idea came to me when I was sitting in a couple’s retreat with my husband. It seemed to come from nowhere. But as I wrote it down, I knew better. 🙂

  3. During church? Oh yeah, preach it, sister! Ahem…
    It’s often an word or a word picture that triggers a torrent of thoughts and I have to write them down. I used to think I’d remember them til after, but now I keep a notebook with me all the time.

    I do a lot of waiting at hockey rinks. 45-60 minutes before a game, 30-45 after.

    When I was at Canyon de Chelly last November, I turned around and saw a man-sized crevass in the canyon wall.I stared at it, and hmmm, what if…?
    Perfect spot for a longrifle and a war weary soldier who makes a critical mistake.

    Book 4, plotted on an observation/photo op stop (say that quickly 😉 ) on a cold, windy afternoon.

    • Michelle Ule says:

      It’s the “what if” factor, isn’t it? Sometimes just removing ourselves from our normal life opens our mind and heart to unique perspectives that causes the creativity to flow.

  4. Hi Michelle! If it’s rude to scribble ideas during church, then I guess I’m rude. In a conference class, Michelle Medlock Adams admitted that she jotted down ideas during the sermon. It looks like she’s taking notes. 🙂 I agree with Andrew. Passing up inspiration could be disobedience to God. Sometimes I get ideas while driving my children, and then my 14yo in the front seat has to take dictation. That often morphs into a fun brainstorming session. Great post!

  5. Michelle, I do the same thing! When I’m working on an interview/article, and I’m searching for where the story should go … God will speak right to me through our pastor! And I scribble it down on my sermon notes, too. Hey, God speaks through the pastor, through song, through His people. And I take note!

    One of the strangest places God spoke to me was at the movie Tron. One said, “You could say I’m a rescue” … that was exactly where my article needed to go. I wrote that down in the theatre! And it’s one of my favorite articles.

    My Bible is like a file cabinet … note after note of hearing from God. I love it!

    • My Bible is like a file cabinet … note after note of hearing from God. I love it!

      Ohh, I love that!

      Do you put dates on the verses and write where you were when they spoke to you? I do. for me, it helps bring back the whole memory.

      • Yes, Jennifer! I love seeing where I was … who spoke about the verse … the meaning of it, insight, etc. I really need a new Bible to take to church because this one looks so tattered. My name is even spelled wrong on the engraving. It was a wedding gift. It’s 28 years old! But I love it.

  6. Jim Lupis says:

    I have developed some great ideas while in the shower, Michelle, but when I wrote them down the ink would run. So now I take an umbrella with me. It seems to have taken care of the problem. 🙂

    On the serious side, when I take my three puppies out late at night (similar to Andrew),I usually receive inspiration. While I’m waiting for nature to take it course, I am always overwhelmed by the awesomeness of the sky above me, and the creativeness of God.

    It gets my creative juices flowing, and all kinds of ideas surface.

    • Jim, I’ve dried my hands many a time to scribble something down. But if I don’t write it down quickly, I’ll forget.

    • Michelle Ule says:

      Something about dogs . . . I used to get entire scenes while walking my dog. I’d work it all out, go home and type it in. Amazing.

      And she never complained if I needed an extra lap around the block to finish the idea. 🙂

  7. Elissa says:

    I really hesitate to say this (it looks kinda bad in relation to other people’s inspirations) but I often get ideas when shoveling manure. This could be completely appropriate if I were a political speech writer, but I write novels (a different sort of fiction). Of course, I can’t write anything down with both hands on a manure fork, and horses are lousy at taking dictation. I just have to remember my thoughts until I get back inside for breakfast and take notes then.

    But to answer the original post, I don’t think it’s at all rude to take notes when inspired in church. I would even recommend bringing a small notebook for just such inspirations. If taking notes in class is expected, why not church, where the lessons are every bit as important?

    • Michelle Ule says:

      LOL! Maybe it’s the repetitive work and freeing your mind to be somewhere else while doing a necessary chore.

      Washing dishes often is helpful in the same, though less scented, way.

  8. What a fun post, Michelle.

    Driving the car + idling at a stoplight + pen + napkins in the glove compartment=frantically scribbled story scenes.
    I have a story idea board on Pinterest, and I’m amazed at the ideas that will come from a single image and the symbolism within.
    When a pressed flower fell from the pages of the bible I used as a teenager, a story theme swooshed out with it.
    For the past three years, on the third day at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, I’ve had a breakthrough with plot arcs for in-process novels.
    Like many of you, I keep a pen and paper on my nightstand. Under cover of dark, I scribbled a section of dialogue, but discovered in the morning that the pen had run out of ink. My daughter’s crayons came in handy as I did a rub on the page. The indentations made by my pen were filled in by colored wax, and then transferred to my MS.

  9. We’ve been thinking along the same lines, Michelle! I just posted to FB that I think my books would get written much faster if I took three of four showers a day. I always get my best ideas in the shower. I can’t write them down, but I often repeat them over and over in hopes of still remembering by the time I get to my computer.

    • Michelle Ule says:

      I’ve been late more than once because sudden inspiration hit in the shower, I ran out in my bathrobe to get it on the computer and then turned around to realize the clock hadn’t stopped!

      It must be the sound of running water lulling the mind and the warmth on that brain–I tell you, increased blood flow to the brain seems to be the key!

    • I do the same thing on bike rides. I get even more of a workout as I speed up to get home and put pen to paper.

  10. I only write in public places.

    I like the social interaction, the stimulation, the food & drinks, the free wi-fi, the unique music in the various coffee shops, cafes, bistro’s, burger joints, etc.

    If I need a character description, I look up and study a kooky looking girl or a guy trying to be macho but failing. I also make friends and get wonderful story ideas. Oh, Oh, gotta go, a guy wearing a top hat just walked into Starbucks.

  11. Many of my ideas come when I’m in the shower or bath tub. Singing lullabies also sparks my imagination. Recently, I attended a concert my daughter played in with her strings orchestra. I came up with a fabulous idea based upon one of the songs they played that I hope to flesh out a bit while on vacation next week.

    • Michelle Ule says:

      It makes sense, Cheryl, since you write children’s books–have you made any plans for when the kids are grown?

      Grandchildren, of course.

      I admit to my mind wandering during Hot Cross Buns, which is apparently the only song taught to beginning musicians on the west coast . . . so I heard it four different times!

      But you raise an interesting point, does music inspire some of your plotting?

  12. Michelle, I enjoyed seeing the picture of your bulletin and reading about the unusual places where you and everyone else has found inspiration.

    My favorite places of inspiration are at the kitchen sink, in my garden, and in the shower (I think writer’s may want to call their hot water tank a ‘think tank’ instead).

    I use a notebook when listening to sermons to help me pay attention to the preacher (think daydreamer). No one would ever know that I was also jotting down ‘ideas’ and sketching the flowers by the pulpit.

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

    • Michelle Ule says:

      Love it! The think tank!

      Alas, California is in a drought, I wonder if all our inspiration will dry up, too? 🙁

      • Wichita Falls, Texas, has days of water remaining. Really sad situation. I don’t know how they will handle the crisis.

      • Water is so precious and necessary for so many aspects of daily living. I hope/pray for sufficient rainfall for everyone as well as the flow of creativity. I know that I don’t miss the late summer days at our former home wondering if our well was going to run dry(We would often use the outhouse to conserve water).

        ❀ Thankfully–the Living Water never runs out.

  13. Lori Benton says:

    If it’s bad to scribble plotting notes in church, enroll me in the club anyway. It happens. 🙂

    • Michelle Ule says:

      I’m pleased to see all the sermon note-takers in this crowd. 🙂 Obviously, God can use our growing spiritual wisdom both personally and professionally, at any time.

  14. Linda says:

    i often find inspiration while on my walk. Maybe it is that blood flow to the brain thing! It doesn’t help my insomnia much, but I also get great ideas when I lay down to go to sleep.

  15. I write on my bulletins too. I sometimes wonder what God thinks when I apply a sermon more to my character than me. As long as I’m trying to spread His word, I think it’s okay.

    Thanks for sharing your process.

  16. A visit to a second-hand shop lead me to not only a purchase or two, but to a couple of great ideas, for these were items I thought my characters would own or be in conflict with. Driving also inspires me because I have imaginary conversation with my characters and something comes up that I can use.

  17. Sondra Kraak says:

    Michelle, I am the same way! My bulletins get full of thoughts during church. My ideas come during the sermons because I’m playing the piano during the singing! I get to go to two services and so hear the sermon twice. I know if I miss something the first time, I’ll pick it up the second time.