The biggest hurdle I see from newbie writers is that their idea for a story just isn’t original. “But it’s been done before!” is their common refrain. My friend, yes, it’s been done before. But not by you. If you want to write and finish a story others will hopefully enjoy, you have to let go of that fear.
Because, honestly, it’s just an excuse not to take the plunge.
Once you get over that, you have an entire world to explore for ideas. Even then, it might be hard.
Let’s start with what we know best: what’s really happening around us.
The dreaded question. Where do writers get their ideas?
I’ve been exploring this the past few weeks. I believe that writers don’t like to answer this question because—for a busy, accomplished writer—getting ideas is the easy part. Their creative subconscious is always churning out new ones.
But for someone that hasn’t been writing since they could hold a pencil, this seems like a daunting task. Especially in an age where there is so much media out there, it feels like all the good ideas have been done.
You can overcome that hurdle by taking risks, combining ideas into a new thing, and creating a process that nurtures and harvests new ideas.
For some writers, all of this is second nature. But for many, they had to learn a process so they could write consistently.
Because, and this is the rub my friends, if you’re not writing consistently, you’ll never finish your story.
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.