One of the questions writers are frequently asked is “where do you get your ideas?” If you happen to be in a big room full of writers, you’ll usually hear a collective groan go up just after that question is asked. It’s the groan of “not that question again.”
Why is it that wannabe writers seem to ask that question again and again? It’s almost as if they think there is some secret fount of ideas and that writers secretly drink regularly from it but don’t want to tell anyone. Or it’s the magic lamp that writers decide not to share, lest the genie decide there are no more wishes.
Wannabe writers seek the easiest path to whatever it is they’re seeking—usually publication. Many of them don’t want to have to spend the hours writing and then the hours upon hours upon hours rewriting. Many of them think their own first drafts are gold. When success doesn’t come immediately, they seek answers from someone who’s “been there.”
The truth is, of course, there is no secret web site that feeds writers ideas. Ideas come from anywhere and everywhere—which is why the question is really so difficult to answer. “I” don’t know where I get my ideas, they just happen. Many times they come when I least expect it—in the car driving on a long trip, or—more often for me, while I sleep. Not dreams so much as ideas just come to me while I’m sleeping.
That’s one of the reasons I took to carrying around notepads with me everywhere, and placing them in strategic spots—I want one handy when an idea strikes. I want to write it down and not forget it.
There’s also the belief that “there is nothing new under the sun.” While there may be some truth to that, I don’t think I necessarily agree with it 100%. I’ve heard that those things that seem new are actually old ideas, but a little different. I guess my thinking is different is different. If it is different enough to be called different…then it’s different.
I think good work also inspires good ideas. I’ve frequently found ideas flooding in when I read a good book. Generally there’s something about the work that causes me to think of something different—something different enough—and then I write it down. Good movies, too. I can sometimes watch a good movie and get an idea. The “idea” is not merely a rip-off of the entire book or film, but usually just one single thing that I thought was cool, and then my brain worked overtime on taking that idea or concept elsewhere.
There’s also television news, newspaper stories, and magazines.
Of course, real life is probably the single biggest idea generator. Not to tell the “real life” story, but to take some real life event that happened to you or to a friend, and then turn it into something bigger. It’s the “inspired from a true story” kind of thing…only it’s not true, it’s made up.
In short…writers get their ideas from…everywhere.
And then some.