Friday, December 2, 2016

The Origin of Ideas Revealed

Where do you get your ideas?

It’s a question that authors get asked all the time, and it’s one that I’m never quite sure how to answer. I feel like people expect an interesting response, like my ideas should have some amazing origin. Sorry. They don’t.

I don’t know where I get my ideas. I get them from everywhere—every show I watch, every book I read, every picture I see, every conversation I hear. I get them from nowhere—they pop into my head without introduction or invitation.

My ideas often come in bunches, which is quite annoying, honestly. The file I keep my ideas in currently contains 15,065 words and dozens of story ideas, and there simply isn’t enough time to write all of them.

I’m not sure why I tend to get a lot of ideas at once, but I have two theories. The first is that certain moods lead to ideas. I think up new things with I’m intellectually bored, or maybe when I’m intellectually stimulated—I’m not sure which.

The second theory is that idea generation leads to more idea generation. Creativity is a muscle, and once I start exercising it, it’s hard to stop. I think this is true, even if there are other factors at play. I believe people can become more creative through practice, through brainstorming and writing prompts and the like.

I don’t always know where my ideas come from, but I do know how they develop. The ideas always start out small: I picture one character, one scene, one problem, one something. Then I flesh it out by asking questions. Why is this happening? What will happen next? Why? What does this character want? Why? Why? Why? You could call it the Socratic method of story generation.

In my experience, people have one of two problems: too many ideas, or none. There’s no in between. For those with no ideas, I suggest you flex your creative muscles. Brainstorm ideas, even if they’re boring and unoriginal at first. Keep coming up with ideas until you create ones you like, and then develop those into bigger ideas.

For those of you with too many ideas, I have no advice. I think you are doomed, like me, to keep ever-growing files full of ideas you’ll never have time to write.