Thursday, August 21, 2014

"Where Do You Get Your Ideas" #amwriting

“Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky; two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”
                                                              ---Stephen King, On Writing


I’ve been told that I have original, fantastical ideas—which is always nice to hear. But even when I hear it, I can feel something inside me tightening, hardening, bracing for the question that will most definitely come next.

Where do you get your ideas?

I refrain from grabbing the person and shaking them, screaming I don’t know! I don’t know damnit! Because in doing so, I would have to admit to the person asking that I just work here. That I am not, in fact, a mythical, magical creature who can conjure awesomeness simply with willpower alone (though I convince myself otherwise when it’s editing time).

But I have learned that there are ways to improve my chances that a good idea will be captured. Because that’s all I’m doing really, capturing the idea. And then laboriously pinning that writhing sucker to the page.

So here are the TOP THREE ways that I  improve the chances that I’ll snag those great ideas out of the air before the little sucker flies past me and on to a better writer.

Keep a notebook handy. This might sound dumb, but I can’t tell you how much brilliance I’m squandered simply because I forgot to write the *&^$% down. My best ideas come to me in the most inconvenient of times: showers, jogging, walking, or on the verge of sleep—all of which aren’t really times I’ve got a notebook on hand. But when I was in Europe in January, I DID carry a notebook everywhere and it made all the difference.

Property of the The Oatmeal

             If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write.   
                       Simple as that. – Stephen King

It never fails to surprise me how many writers tell me they don’t read. I understand, of course. When life gets busy, finding time to lay (lie?) about and read seems absolutely impossible. The dishes?! My mind says. All those essays to grade!?! Just an extra 30 minutes of sleep!  But reading is really conducive to generating ideas. How many of us are writing because we read something amazing? Because a story or character came alive for us? Reading breeds ideas. Read more, and more ideas will come to you.  This can also be said of movies, TV, or anything else that you feel invigorates your mind, rather than dulls it.

Write. Yes, actually write. Many writers make the mistake of waiting for the inspiration to come.  But that simply isn’t how it works. Take it from someone who has done a lot of waiting... Sometimes the writing will be so hard that it is like you’re learning to walk all over again, except you don’t have feet, or knee caps, and you’re just wobbling all over the place. But you need to sit down and do it anyway.

                 Keep working. Don’t wait for inspiration. Work inspires inspiration. Keep working.

                                               –  Michael Crichton

This might all seem like common sense to you, but you’d be amazed how often (myself included), we forget our sense when it comes down to doing the actual work. All I can say to that is to just try again.

          “Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.”

                                                          ― Larry L. King, Writer's Digest

…and perhaps also have a little faith—that the ideas will come. That if you're doing all this, the right idea will find you.


  1. I always have more ideas than I have time to develop them, and for me the hard part is always the work, not the idea. This comic sums it up nicely.