Shopping for Ideas: Notion Potion #5 by Jordan Castillo Price

It’s time again for another sip of creativity juice from Notion Potion, a refreshing elixir for all sorts of creative types. Last month we talked about the stymieing effect of excessive perfectionism. This month, let’s have some fun while we go shopping for ideas!


Writers often claim it frustrates them when fans inquire where they get their ideas. I’ve never had an issue with this question, probably because the answer, if one were to really consider it, must be utterly fascinating and as individual as our DNA.

In 1999, libraries in London began cleverly reinventing themselves as Idea Stores. (Maybe I’ll get a chance to visit while I’m in the UK in a few days. Although my head is full-to-bursting with my own ideas, I just can’t resist dipping back in to the buffet.)

It’s more than just a marketing ploy. Libraries really are fabulous places to go idea hunting. In addition to the obvious offering of books, consider the scrounging up these other resources:

Periodicals – I find magazine subscriptions to be a drain on my productivity. They usually form a huge “should” pile on random flat surfaces in my home until I give them away…to my library! By availing myself of the library’s magazine collection, I get to keep abreast of whatever’s currently caught my attention, and when I’m done looking at them, I bring them back and don’t have to worry about their clutter! Another trick I have is to order up back issues when I’m looking for something random or nonspecific. Magazines are great not only for generating writing ideas, but crafts, home improvement, and visual arts.

Online Databases – Many library systems subscribe to online databases, which you can access through the library’s website with your library card. This info can be invaluable when you’re researching something technical. Specialized business, science and medical information can often be found here. Your reference librarian will probably be pleased to get you started using this digital collection.

Local Info – Libraries’ local collections, particularly in small towns, are fascinating. I worked on a library project where we digitized rare local documents and photos to preserve them and make them accessible to the community online, and it was difficult to stay on task and not get wrapped up in poring through the old photos and reading the quirky family histories.

Primary Sources – Once I was working on a period piece where some characters had recently been released from prison…in 1949. Though I wasn’t holding out much hope, I wanted it to have a ring of authenticity, so I hopped on the online card catalog to see what I could find. Lo and behold, I found a book about issues with the particular prison in which my characters had been incarcerated—a book written in 1950! (Score!)

Sight and Sound – Videos are another great way to research something if you can’t go see it with your own eyes. This is especially useful if you still have something to play VHS tapes on, since some weird old treasures are still floating around many libraries. Often the subject of the videos isn’t exactly the thing you’re researching, however there’s nothing keeping you from casting a broad perceptual net as you’re watching. The narrator might be telling you about the fiftieth annual local Bacon Festival, while you’re looking at the buildings behind him and thinking, “Wow, everyone has blue shutters on that street,” thus giving you some extra local flavor…beyond the bacon.

Reinforcement – Even if you’ve been practicing your craft for as long as you can remember, a return to basics can grease the wheels when you’re feeling stuck. Often the same information gets repackaged every few years to reflect current trends—this was very apparent with needlework, where the older covers tend to look both drab and garish at the same time, while current covers feel inviting and modern, even if the stitches are all the same. Go have a peek at what’s current in your field if you’re hungry for a bit of inspiration. A new presentation might enable you to see the info with fresh eyes. Even writers will find new books on the writing craft continue to roll off the presses.

Browsing – Sometimes where I’m not sure what I want to write, I’ll generate a random word and take it from there. Painters often do a similar thing by making a foundation of a few random gestural strokes on a blank canvas, so they’re starting with something other than a big empty field of white. If you’re itching to create something, but you’re not sure exactly what, a random browse might pull your more nebulous ideas into focus if you just pay attention to what’s capturing your interest.


In Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, popular crime author Lawrence Block says that when asked where he got his ideas, he would claim to subscribe to an idea magazine, in which he received a monthly offering of  ideas and was able to select the ones he wished to flesh out and expound upon and claim them for his own. (Speaking of ideas, I just got one…what if someone came up with a monthly electronic newsletter like this, called it the Idea Bank, and sold it for $1 per issue? I’d subscribe.)

Maybe what feels facetious about the idea-subscription notion is not so much the thought that it might exist, but the knowledge that the idea is only the smallest seed of a creative endeavor. Most creatives generate exponentially more ideas than they’ll ever use. However, for those days when the creativity muscles are feeling stiff…an email from the Idea Bank would at the very least be a welcome diversion from the daunting blank page.

Author and artist Jordan Castillo Price is the owner of JCP Books and the author of many award-winning gay paranormal thrillers, including PsyCop and Magic Mansion. Her latest series, Turbulence, is a twisted foray into the Bermuda Triangle. Check it out at




Author and artist Jordan Castillo Price is the owner of JCP Books LLC. She writes paranormal, horror and thriller novels from her isolated and occasionally creepy home in rural Wisconsin.


  • I heard that some municipality I Texas turned an abandoned Wal-Mart into a gigantic public library. This is a kind of justice; since someone once told me that she didn’t need to go to the library because she bought ALL of her books at…Wal-Mart.

    Libraries are a sure sign of civilization! I want to send my love to Saint Louis Public Library Central, a treasure that will reopen after extensive renovation. A temple of learning and beauty, restored.

    My heart lives there!

    • Will not go into a Wal-Mart rant. Will. Not. Rant.

      Hopefully a few of my suggestions above will lead creatives to re-consider the library as a source of inspiration, particularly if they haven’t been to one lately, or didn’t realize there were secret collections like the databases and local info.

      Hooray for St Louis!

  • I am lucky that my local library is really cool – it has a wide range of fiction (even some romance titles that are not available in the biggest bookshop in town), non-fiction, foreign language magazines, as well a lovely little courtyard should you wish to read in the sun, monthly author talks, and computers to use for free. I also find that I tend to be more open minded in libraries than in bookshops – after all, books are “free” to borrow, so it doesn’t matter if I borrow some random titles I don’t end up reading.

    • I too love that feeling about being a bit random when picking out library books. Since they’re “free” and I don’t need to own or store them, it’s a no-risk proposition.

      I love the sound of the courtyard. Many of the new libraries around here are building fireplaces into their reading rooms.

  • Ah libraries – I love them. No matter where I am, if I walk into a library I feel suddenly at home. I love the idea of browsing for ideas in a library.

    The brain is a funny organ. I find that I get the best ideas when I’ve essentially shut it off -either on purpose or because I’m concentrating on something entirely different. But then, I tend to chew on story ideas for a very long time before I start writing. For a while I was quilting badly but creatively and I did the same thing with that – chew and forget and remember and chew some more. With quilting my ideas were great but I never developed the technical skill to make the quilts look like my imaginings.

    I love these suggestions. Gives me a great excuse to hang out in the local library.

    • How funny, I was the same way with quilting. Great ideas but not technically proficient.

      I’ve been spending most of my library time at the Bookmobile, which is fun, but not quite the same as browsing through a big library building. There is a newer library that opened up near my gym, but it seems like the collection is far too small for the building. (They do this on purpose since a library is supposed to last 20 years or more.) It’s my experience that the library will “fill out” in probably five years or less. Maybe I should just enjoy all that breathing room!

      • We have a newly remodeled library in my town – it’s really lovely, lots of room and beautiful windows. I’m sure it will fill with books soon but the space is very nice.


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