Where do you get your ideas?4 min read
Writers deal with this question a lot, and it’s hard to answer because if you haven’t experienced that weird kismet-bubble-pop-lightning-flash-frying-pan-to-the-head moment then trying to explain your process of day dreaming about Korean dramas or the world’s unlikeliest mash ups is difficult. Suddenly it’s just there. That story where Ragnarok meets Scrubs. Genius.
Like Neil Gaiman handily encapsulates in his answer to the question ‘where do you get your ideas?’: “I make them up,” he says. “Out of my head.”
But this question continues to be asked, so maybe we need to double check our definition of ‘idea’ to make sure we’re on the same wavelength.
It’s unlikely that, in one flash of inspiration, a writer finds a fully formed plot outline in their head. When writers say they “just had” an idea, don’t panic that your idea-having is wrong, they just had a seed of an idea. It’s still going to require some serious cultivation and hard work to turn it into a story. J. K. Rowling sat on the train and the idea of “this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who didn’t know he was a wizard” came into her head. But don’t forget this was then followed by six years of writing and re-working and life before she sent the first Harry Potter novel off to an agent.
So don’t worry if your idea doesn’t immediately seem big enough to sustain a full novel or film script, it may need to germinate a while, maybe mix with some other ideas. Let it. Keep popping back to check up on it, see how it progresses.
But what if day dreamy inspiration flashes aren’t happening at all? How can you keep your brain topped up with creativity to give ideas a good chance to sprout?
Read. Read what you love. Read in genres you don’t know much about. The same for films and TV. Watch. Widely. Newspapers, paintings, story prompts from dreaded creative writing text books. Sit on plot generator sites and give yourself RSI until something sparks an interest. You never know what might ignite an idea. You can’t sit in a dark room with your eyes shut making your brain do all the work, you need to provide it with fuel.
You’ve probably had hundreds of ideas. Maybe the snag is that you’re just not recognising them as ideas. A conversation with a friend about your celebrity spirit animal? That’s an idea. Wondering what your goldfish thinks of you? Idea. Debating the pros and cons of going to the shop round the corner? Idea. (If you don’t believe me on this last one it’s time to head back to Neil Gaiman and read Fortunately, the Milk…)
Open up to all the ideas around you.
Some of those ideas might not work for you, but some might hold that little bespectacled, lightning-scarred seed.
Think about it another way. Who would have thought “caterpillar eats a whole load of fruit” could be an enthralling story? But 30 million copies and nearly 50 years later…
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