For some reason, writers don’t like to talk about where they get their ideas. And to the outside observer, it seems like writers magically get their ideas from the thin air.
In this series of posts, I hope to break down some of this mystery and maybe help you stop worrying and start writing.
In my previous entry, I said that writers don’t like to answer this question, because they’re busy doing harder tasks. Writing a story—that’s both entertaining and coherent—is far more difficult than coming up with an idea.
But to newcomers who want to jump into the craft of writing fiction, getting a fresh, original, and interesting idea can seem daunting.
So, let’s start out simple: what do you love?
I’m not talking about big things like family or God, but the things that inspired you to write in the first place.
Many accomplished writers started out very young. Long before they published a book, they were writing as children. They’ve been writing for so long, they don’t even think about how they get ideas. Their creative subconscious is so used to churning up new combinations of things, it’s second nature.
But you have to start somewhere. You might as well start out with the stories you already love.
I don’t know much about Jennifer Egan, but she’s credited with one great quote:
“You can only write regularly if you’re willing to write badly. You can’t write regularly and well. One should accept bad writing as a way of priming the pump, a warm-up exercise that allows you to write well.”
This is so brilliant, that it bears an entire article to unpack and talk about.
I’m a freelance writer. Been writing for a living for about 4 years. Long before that, I was simply an amateur fiction writer. I would spend free time working on a short story or manuscript. But it wasn’t until I started writing for money that certain things clicked into place.
When you’re aspiring to be a published fiction writer, it’s easy to put off work (i.e.: writing). You probably have a day job or school—and numerous other responsibilities and social obligations. Setting even ten minutes aside to work on that idea or continue to story can be impossible.
But, for me, that luxury went straight out the window—when writing meant I could pay my bills!
Freelance writing, or at least the kind I was doing, requires that I write. A lot. Often about things I either don’t know much about—or worse—don’t even care about. In order to earn enough to support myself, I had to churn out mountains of content on a daily basis.
The only way I could survive and then thrive was to be satisfied with writing badly.
People who don’t write often ask this question: where do you get your ideas?
It’s true that, when you look at a finished product, a story appears like magic. This strange person mysteriously came up with out-of-this-world idea that you would have never thought of. Obviously, writers have some kind of special power that allows them to conjure up endless ideas for their stories.
But that’s not really what happens.
Like all forms of art and creativity, writers write because they love it. Or they should—there are always periods of burnout. What inspires me to write is my love of story and the incredible notion that I too can do what people like Tolkien, Gaiman, and Clarke do.
I, personally, think writers don’t like the question, “Where do you get your ideas,” because that’s so far and away the last thing we even worry about. We already have the ideas percolating in our heads. The real challenge is, you know, actually writing them out.
Writers work so hard trying to take their ideas, put them on paper, and have them come out in a form that’s not only understandable, but at the same time relatable and unique, and entertaining. It’s not an easy task. So, when someone asks us the dreaded question, it’s almost insulting.
Because an idea is literally just the beginning of the journey.
I bought his journal a while ago and was waiting for proper motivation to have some fun. So I’ll be joining him in doing a page each day. The pages will be random, based on my mood. Here is yesterday’s and today’s:
Follow me on Twitter @quippley to see my journey, or park it right here at the blog. If you want to join in, pick up his cool book.
New short story alert! If you like mysterious, sci-fi thrillers, you might like Blind.
Here is a snippet:
“Just shut up and stay in the corner. Don’t move until I tell you to.”
Lena felt the rough hands move over her body. They seemed to be probing rather than groping. In her drug-induced grogginess she wondered if he was actually searching for injuries. She felt the hands attack the ropes at her wrists. They slackened, enough for her to move them freely. The man’s hands held hers for a moment, a clear sign that she was not to lift them. The blindfold he did not remove.
The wall was cold and slick with some kind of moisture. Judging from the smells it was not water. Lena’s back was sore, as was her legs that were folded up under her. By the pain she guessed she had been down there for some time. Reaching back into the recesses of her mind, she pulled at a memory. There was a lot of light and sound, but nothing coherent. Before that the party, the large house abnormally dark and full of strangers. Darkness clouded everything else until now.