When I talk to non-writers about projects there is one inevitable question; where do I get my ideas? There seems to be this magical aura around the subject as though writers have tapped into some underground magical force that no one else can find. Or maybe they think we’re genetically coded in some unique way to boost creativity. That’s not the way it works, at least not for me.
They want to know where I get my ideas? I keep my eyes open. Wherever I’m going, whatever I’m doing, I’m paying attention and keep an open mind. A dozen times a day, at least, something occurs to me. The comments people make, how they move, how they look, what’s on TV, who’s at the restaurant. Words, phrases, scenes, subjects, they’re constantly bouncing around my head and rearranging themselves in different ways. Hey, that’d be interesting in a story.
I’m sure that isn’t an ability that’s unique to me. In fact, I’m pretty sure just about anyone can do what I do. Most people probably have a ton of good ideas for stories that occur to them. But here’s the key thing: writers do something about it. When one of these ideas occur to me, I don’t move on and forget about it, I let it wiggle around the back of my head for a while. What kind of characters would be involved in a story like this? What kind of plot would it have? Where would it take place? What kind of twist can I inject?
Sometimes I evaluate the idea and decide it isn’t that good, not all are going to be, but the ones with any promise get written down. The really good ones, I’ll find the time to write out at least a page synopsis and notes so I can dig into it deeper later on.
But I’m always paying attention, always thinking.
Here’s an example:
A couple weeks ago I was struggling with the name for a project I was working on. You might remember that, I wrote a post called It’s all been written. Usually I have a title before I start writing but that story was giving me fits. I kept checking ideas online and all the good ones had been taken, so I emailed a friend and asked for her opinion.
She wrote back an innocuous suggestion that didn’t remotely fit the story… But I thought it was a hilarious. Immediately my brain kicked into gear. What would that story be like? What kind of characters would it have? How would that work?
I could have disregarded her title idea and moved on because it didn’t fit my story. Instead, I got a really amazing idea for a new one just because I was paying attention and I kept an open mind.
So, there might not be any mythical well spring of story ideas out there (if there is, point me in the right direction) but paying attention and writing things down is almost as good.