The eternal question asked by and of writers. Where do you get your ideas from? In response to this frequently asked question, the divine Neil Gaiman has said:
‘I make them up,’ I tell them. ‘Out of my head.’
Well, obviously. Whatever we do and say, odds are, it probably originated from out of our heads. This includes that little voice. The inner narrator, the one that watches two people at a bar on the tube and invents an entire story around them.
Stephen King, driving through the town of Ruth in Nevada, was struck by how quiet it was, almost like a ghost town. He wondered idly where everyone was and that inner narrator said: “they’re all dead and the sheriff killed them all.” That was the seed of an idea which became the book Desperation.
Ideas come from the what ifs and whys.
I tend to get most of my ideas when I’m learning new things. I’m a big Youtube watcher and I watch channels like Game Theory, V-Sauce, Nerdwriter, Wisecrack which all produce massively intelligent content. It introduces me to subjects I would never usually be interested in. One of my favourite short stories I’ve ever written was born from an article I read about people who steal lead off church roofs and wondering what sort of people they are.
But that’s not all. A photograph can inspire us. A building. An overheard conversation in a restaurant. Our own personal experiences and the tales we’ve heard from others – mine them shamelessly for stories!
Let’s honest, the problem isn’t that writers have a lack of ideas. What we tend to suffer from is a lack of good ideas. Ideas which will reach other people. Learning to separate the wheat from the chaff is the true challenge.
For an idea to be worth pursuing, it needs to tick a couple boxes.
- Is there an audience for this idea?
- Does it address a point, answer a question or tackle a particular topic?
A well-executed idea is worthless if only you and your cat/dog/well-read parrot are going to appreciate your genius.
If it’s not quite there yet, don’t worry! I keep a ridiculous number of notebooks, each for its own project and one for scribbles. This is where I keep all my ideas like a pathological hoarder. Notebooks have been lovingly called a writers attic. This is where you can keep those ideas which aren’t quite ready.
But one day you’ll flick through the pages of an old notebook and rediscover an idea you had years ago which suddenly can develop beyond what you could have when you first thought of it. Maybe you have the emotional maturity, or experience now. Or maybe it’s become a popular theme and you’re ready to jump on the band waggon with your own take.
By the way, Nail Gaiman is an amazing and hilarious speaker on this subject so you might want to check this video out!