Where do those wacky ideas come from?

Okay, in my attempt to blog a little more about writing, I reckon I’ll start at the beginning, which is where all writing starts, right? Even if not all stories start that way, the writing does. It all begins with an idea.

Truthfully, this is probably the single most asked question of writers. I’ve been attending writer’s conferences and speaking on assorted panels since the late 1980s, and I’ve heard “where do you get your ideas” more than any other question. The problem is, there is no easy answer for it. Sometimes when that question is asked, I think the askers assume the response will be “oh, I use the idea-chest I picked up at Wal-Mart for a buck ninety-nine. I just reached in and grabbed the first idea I came to.”

There is no idea-chest: Ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. But, because I’d be doing those genuinely interested in an answer a disservice if I left it at that, I’ll cover some of the possibilities.

First, ideas come from reading. Writers should read. A lot! They should read good stuff and they should read bad stuff (though more of the former, if possible). Writers can be inspired by good writing. When you read something done well, you’re inspired to go and also do well. I’m not meaning mimicry, but writing something that makes the reader feel like you felt when reading the good thing.

Believe it or not, writers can also be inspired by bad writing, and in more than one way. The first thought is that you can do better than what you’ve just read—and it was published! On a smaller level, you can easily see all of the mistakes and commit them to memory while vowing never to make those mistakes. Doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes, but you will diligently work to not make those same mistakes.

Writers can get ideas from other entertainment: movies, cartoons, television, music, you name it. Something clicks and an idea is hatched. I’ve talked about writing to music before, but never really mentioned how I can get ideas from songs. Maybe sometime later I’ll go more in-depth. Often, though, we see a show and think how cool it would be if something different had happened…and thus is birthed a new idea.

For the most part, though, ideas come from simply living life! Everyday things: mowing the lawn, doing laundry, worrying about kids who’ve just gotten their driver’s license, listening to annoying folks on talk radio! There is so much material to be mined in our day to day existence that if you were to write it all, you’d be blogging several times a day, if not more. The problem comes in that we live our lives, but fail to write the ideas down as they occur. How many times have you been driving and an idea strike you? That evening, you can’t remember what it was.

The solution? Carry around a small notepad with you everywhere you go. Write down the ideas as they come to you. Before long, you’ll have too many ideas and not enough blog!


Filed under writing

5 responses to “Where do those wacky ideas come from?

  1. Ro0land, I take a lot of my cues from the news. You know when something happens, a photo or a comment will catch my attention, and I begin wondering “How does his mother(father, sister, wife, child) feel about that? What if he hadn’t been there?” or other such questions.

    Also, if you have opportunity, get into a conversation with an octogenarian – in the doctors office, at a ball game, in line at the grocery store. They have wonderful stories!

  2. Oops – sorry for the extra ‘O’ – Roo!

  3. Jerri Mann

    Just be careful if you are driving when the idea hits you and you want to write it down. It is hard to write and drive.

  4. Peggy Johnson

    Good tips! Yesterday I had some good thoughts, failed to jot them down, and now they are gone. I tried to bring them back, but no luck………….PJ

  5. If you have an iPhone, there’s a notepad real handy in there. I use mine all the time for blog ideas and pretty much everything else.

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