The Memory Bank


I’m not a terribly disciplined person when it comes to writing. I have a noisy mind, random thoughts running parallel to one another at any given point of time. Most of them have nothing to do with writing – mundane, routine stuff such as buying groceries, planning meals, running errands or even the washing. There are sparks of inspiration in between.

I don’t have a desk or a fancy office. Most of the time, I am typing away furiously at the dining table or even the bed, propped up by cushions. I don’t like working in coffee shops or park benches. People distract me, conversations disrupt my train of thought and I end up eavesdropping (discreetly of course) without getting my own workdone. The food that I consume when I’m out is also something I could do without.

Many people have asked me how I get ideas for my stories. Here goes.

Mostly, they just come to me, in the middle of something I’m busy with. I may be at the bus stop waiting for my daughter to get home from school or even at the neighbourhood supermarket buying groceries. A face, a smile or the tring of the rickshaw puller’s bell sets me off. My mind is always wandering. But that’s a good thing, in my case.

If you are looking for a place to get ideas, here are some tips to get you started.

Memories are a good place to mine for ideas. Think back to some of your favourite memories from the past. A birthday party or a trip to the zoo. A favourite relative who may not be alive anymore. I remember going for long drives as a child. All of us siblings and cousins would be packed into my father’s green Fiat. He would drive us through Kolkata, down the busy streets towards Strand Road, a long stretch of road running parallel to the river. We would stop for ice creams. The windows of the car would be pulled down, cool breeze on our faces as we contemplated the water, dotted by tiny boats and steamers. My father died when I was very young but those memories will stay alive as long as I’m around.

Step outside. Coffee shops, markets or even a bookstore is a great place to meet people and protagonists for your stories. I met a man at a book fair once who was buying expensive books at a stall. He looked as though he was a man of modest means, shabby white shirt and trousers, disheveled hair. He probably caught my gaze and read my mind. “You must be wondering why I’m buying all these books Didi,” he said out loud, somewhat apologetically. “You see, I’ve just bought a flat after years of saving up. I have a bookshelf but no books. I need books to fill my bookshelf with, the kind they have in wealthy people’s homes.” Story there somewhere!

Writing Prompts. If you don’t find any ideas from your memories or the people you meet, you can always rely on writing prompts. I’ve never used a prompt but most writing websites have them. Perhaps you could use your favourite memory from childhood as a prompt? Let me know how that worked for you. I’d love to read the story.

You can read some of my short stories here

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