Thursday, April 8, 2010

Where Do Ideas Come From?

So-called Sappho, fourth style fresco; Pompeii...Image via Wikipedia
Seriously, I believe it's a question every writer has had to field at some  time or another. And it's a legitimate question. It is also a source of fascination for others who may be thinking of writing a book or undertaking some other creative endeavor.

Where do those ideas come from?  How can I find one, or two, or more?

When you think about it, we all come up with ideas all the time...again I say, all of us. It isn't just the ability to come up with an idea using our creative impulses, but the ability to trust ourselves, our abilities and our own thought processes.  For many writers, it's the ability to shed fear and move forward.  What if it doesn't make sense? What if it isn't good enough?  What if....

Well, remember your stories are pretty much based on 'what if' so cultivate that trust in yourself.  Are there hacks?  Yes there are.  But the ability to take chances with your ideas to push and pull until that idea is forced well beyond what you normally feel safe with, that's what will separate your ideas from the pack...or the hack.

So, where do those ideas come from?  Well, if you talk to several writers you'll get several answers.  Sometimes there are those who think in terms of creative radar.  Ideas float in the ether until someone picks them up.  This leads to the concept of daydreaming and emerging from it with an idea fully formed and fleshed out.  Works for some.

Then there's another, and more reliable method (at least for me) and that is the concept that ideas basically emerge from hard work and thoughtful contemplation.  The writer picks up an idea, perhaps from a newspaper article, or a photo, or witnessing something in public, then proceeds to work out a story and create it.

Ideas come from everywhere, from within ourselves, our memories and experiences and dreams.  From without ourselves, via active engagement with the world.

The trick is being ready to pick up on an idea when it slaps you in the face. Pay attention to the world aroaund you, cultivate the ability to pick up on detail and event. Be curious, investigate things that interest you and be sure to take notes when ideas occur.  The real truth is, ideas are plentiful, it's the execution that's a bitch.  If you don't capture an idea quickly, follow up on it and commit to it, it will disappear, simply evaporate and leave you wondering what happened.  Once that happens, it's very rare that you can get that idea or thought back. Pft!  It's gone.   Pay attention.  Take notes or photos, leave a message to yourself on your phone if you have to, but don't let it slip away.

And, as a writer it's important to attempt to maintain an openness, a willingness to  make connections between things that might seem unrelated, the quirk, the odd moment, the bit of scientific information crossed with a strange first date.  The brain is always churning, always willing to create new worlds. 

Basically, ideas aren't the private arena of the 'creative', everyone gets them.  It's what you do with them that counts.  If you prepare yourself, open yourself, you'll find ideas everywhere you turn, including when you're just sitting around daydreaming.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


  1. I love the Pompeian lady's portrait. I used to have a print of it on my study wall in a former home. Lost her in one of my moves. I think I need another one. I'll have to start looking around.

    Non-writers who think they've got the world's greatest idea and want to "sell" it to you, or have you "write down the words" and split the profits 50/50 always make me laugh. Ideas are as close as your morning paper or your motormouth next door neighbor. As you say, it's what we DO with them that matters.

  2. Thanks for the post Annerallen - I've had those kinds of offers as well. I venture to say most established writers aren't looking for ideas from others - generally they have enough of their own.


Other Posts Of Interest:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...