Thursday, April 29, 2010

Inspiration in Life and Anonymity

It's the most common question a writer gets.

Where do you get your ideas?

Dude. I dunno. They're just there. Like pimples. You go to bed all like, "I have a pretty face," and you wake up with a zit on your nose. Ideas are like that. You go to bed all like, "I am a hack and I can't come up with an original idea evar," and you wake up with an idea ricocheting off your brain.

But I figure that if I had to give an answer that didn't involve pus-filled-pustules-that-are-the-bane-of-teenagers, then I'd give a two-fold answer.

Where do you get your ideas? Life.

I can't take credit for this one. KL Going said it.
Life is more important than writing. Living my life, to the fullest, experiencing the world, traveling, tasting, seeing new things, loving my family and friends, learning interesting skills...this is where success lies, not in being published. The beautiful twist is that these are also the very things that will infuse my writing with heart.
When I'm stuck and I need an idea, I sometimes break the Butt-in-Chair mantra. BIC is a good solution to writer's block--often the best and only solution. But when I'm really stuck, I get up and do something. Something new. I go to a new restaurant and try food I've never had before. I turn down the roads that I always pass on my drives to and from work--you know, the roads that go off in the distance and you always kind of wonder where they go, but you never have time to explore. I just go for a walk. Something. Because living life leads you to stories.

Where do you get your ideas? What if.

The most important question a writer can ever ask is simply: what if. What if? What if he met her? What if she hated him? What if the prophecy couldn't come true? What if the hero was a bad guy? What if aliens landed right now?

Have you ever looked at a person on the street and wondered what she was going to do that day? Or have you ever wondered what that guy you work with would do if some extreme situation landed in his lap?

That's what you do with writing. You explore the what if. Ideas spring from that.

Check out this video. Fifty people were asked one simple question: where would you like to wake up tomorrow? They each had a different answer. They each have a different story. The girl who wants to wake up at home with her parents if very different from the boy who wants to wake up next to his father's tombstone.


So: where do YOU get your ideas?

30 comments:

Bish Denham said...

Great post. I too have been touching on this "issue" of where ideas come from. Much as I love waking up in the Virgin Islands (something I get to do every year) I'm quite content to wake up in my own bed next to my sweetie.

India Drummond said...

We all have wonderful, touching, scary, profane, loving, hilarious and delightful things going through our heads all the time. We writers just learn how to listen.

Jen said...

Beautifully said. I love that writers are asked the one question they aren't able to answer. They're given to you, the clouds bring them, the raindrops leave little drops of inspiration, at the end of the day it's all in our heads. Hehe

Candyland said...

I love it! I get my ideas from news, weird dreams, random conversations and my life...

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

That was the coolest video! I sat there smiling but also sometimes feeling sad as I listened to those random answers. It's perfect for your post on what-if. Isn't it amazing that writers can use their imaginings in daily life?
As for where the ideas come from, I guess that's what makes the human brain so interesting--the stuff it collects, the paths it travels, the surprises it can deliver.

PJ Hoover said...

This has to be the most common question kids ask. I get ideas everywhere and it's so fun to try to look back and figure out exactly where the spark really came from.

Karen Lange said...

I'm with you, life is the source of my ideas. It usually doesn't take much to spark an idea that heads off in some direction. Sometimes I get on idea overload, so I've gotten into the habit of keeping a notebook with me all the time so I can jot them down for later use.
Have a great day:)

Kristi Helvig said...

For me, my ideas often come through dreams. As I finished my last book, I had a new book idea pop up in a dream. I have a whole notebook filled with dreams, if only I could find the time to write them all.

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Great post. My inspiration comes from everywhere. It is really hard to pinpoint where an idea starts. I've found I take different bits of things I've seen/heard and join them together.
Oh, and from dreams. lol

Carolyn V. said...

What a cool video!

I get my ideas from the world around me, and then I add things I think they need. And add a little funny. =)

nomadshan said...

This mirrors a podcast I heard yesterday: Harlan Coben at The Tattered Cover in Denver. I stored away the "what if" technique to share with groups of kids wondering how to come up with ideas.

Christine Fonseca said...

I get my ideas from everywhere...life, dreams, etc. I guess I am finially putting that vivid imagination I have always had to good use *wink*

Tabitha said...

Like what most others have been saying here, ideas are *everywhere*. :) You could write a story that was sparked by an iron sitting on a table. :)

The hard part is taking that idea and crafting it into a believeable story with real and complex characters.

Crystal Cook said...

I think living life, and asking what if are the best possible ways to get ideas.

Just plain writing, BIC helps me the most though.

JEM said...

If this video makes me cry at work you are so in trouble.

Matthew Rush said...

Great question Beth. My inspirations always seem to come to me just before bed for some reason.

Oh wait, that's when they come.

As far as where they come from - i don't know - the aether I guess, or the void, or deep space, or the 10th dimension, or the shadow world, or the world of light ... obviously I don't know, but I will say that the best ideas seem to come through us, rather than from us.

Demon Hunter said...

I would have to say life as well. From my jobs, travel, tv (non-fiction), interacting with all kinds of people, etc. The ideas come from everywhere. I had 4 new ones in the last two days. Which reminds me, if I don't get back to work on my WIP, no one will get to see it. ;-)

Thanks for posting this.

Crimey said...

My ideas sort of pop up like pimples too, and there's a little fairy sprinkling dust over my head sometimes. :)

Elana Johnson said...

Dude, Beth, I'm with you. They're just there. Sometimes I'm inspired by a stupid commercial. Or the fact that I have to wait for a train. I think, "Oh! Holy crap! That's how I'm going to get them from A to Z!"

I don't want you to think I don't have to work for my ideas. I do. But I don't just sit and think about them. They come in weird places while I'm doing weird things.

Kelly H-Y said...

Wow ... this very topic - idea generation - was a big piece of a presentation I just did this morning at a Young Authors event!
Great post!

MC Rogerson said...

Lovely video. Thanks for sharing.

I find my ideas in newspapers, books, life, but I develop them when I'm walking.

Cat said...

I just tell the Muse part of my brain that I need an idea and whoops she comes with at least three non related ones. Sometimes even more. I can have my pick (I can even merge ideas which is great fun). I think I get along well with my Muse-Me - but I often wonder if people believe me crazy because I argue with myself about invisible people and stories of world domination, murder or kidnapping.

Well, as my Mum says, "It's a happy writers life."

Kelly said...

Neat video!
I like people watching and wondering what their story is.
Ideas are everywhere.

Liza said...

Like you, I try to experience new places and new things.

Anonymous said...

Love the video, and great post! Even the most outrageous ideas can come from things around you. :)

Jemi Fraser said...

I'm like you - my ideas just pop up by pimples (great analogy btw!). Love the video too.

Solvang Sherrie said...

I wish I had some sort of Idea Bank I could just go to for ideas. I think writer's are just able to look at the world differently, to think up questions and then answer them with their own imaginations.

Myrna Foster said...

Life and dreams - of course, what I read affects my dreams.

Anonymous said...

As all writers, I get my ideas from everywhere. In the grocery store eavesdropping and from my own dreams. If I don't write them down, they usually disappear. Luckily I keep a notebook in the top drawer of the bedside table and another in my purse.

Victor M. Powell said...

Hi, as others have said before me, Great Post. You never know where an idea will come from. Lately, mine have come from my dreams. If only there was a device to actually record the visual representations of our dreams...well...the ones we want to remember, it'd be great.

Victor.