Where do you get your ideas?
I guess this is a question writers get a lot so I wanted to tackle it here. Whenever science fiction writer Harlan Ellison was asked where he got his ideas from, he would answer: Schenectady, New York.
So where do I get my ideas from? Answer: I don’t really know. But I’ll try to explain below.
I wish I could explain the idea-getting process a little better, but it just seems like ideas kind of pop up in my mind. Once an idea is there, I just kind of let it grow a little, letting it develop more, seeing where it leads. If the idea is intriguing enough, I’ll jot down a few notes on paper so I don’t lose the basic plot of the story, but I’ll keep the idea mostly in my mind until it grows enough to where I feel like I need to start writing more notes or even an outline.
Here are some of the places I’ve gotten ideas from in the past: magazine articles, an interview on the radio (NPR), watching bad movies (sometimes you get better ideas watching a bad movie than a good movie because you can imagine what you would’ve done with that same story plot), reading short stories, talking with family or friends, news articles.
Another way ideas come to me is just through the act of writing. I know I might have said it before, but just the act of writing (whether with pen and paper or on the computer) can open up the floodgates of ideas or draw back the theatrical curtains to the mind’s eye. I don’t really know how to explain it, but it’s like when I’m concentrating on that scene in a story, the one I’m writing at that moment, my subconscious mind begins to wander and ideas form.
I’ve also had some of my best ideas while doing trivial things that allow my mind to wander: driving (I’m a safe driver, I swear), mowing the lawn, working out, etc.
I think it helps to do a lot of reading, learning, and exploring to generate ideas. Even if you write only in a certain genre, I believe it’s helpful to learn about anything else that might interest you. You never know when some detail you’ve learned somewhere else might turn up in your story, perhaps in a character’s past or in a location, or other areas. These little details can add a lot of flavor to your writing.
Trying to force ideas may be a bad idea. I’ve always wanted to write a vampire novel, but any ideas that really excite me haven’t come along yet, and I don’t want to force an idea into a story if I’m not excited about it. I’ll just have to wait until the next time I’m mowing the lawn or driving and an idea pops into my mind.
I wish I had a better answer for where my ideas come from, or where they come from in general. All I can say is sometimes you have to let the mind wander and just try writing a few pages and maybe those ideas will form.
I will be writing another article about ideas soon. Hope this helps someone out there, and please feel free to comment – I would love to hear from you.
Until next time …