Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Where do you get your ideas? This has to be the most asked question every writer hears. Luckily, it's a fun one to answer. Ideas abound absolutely everywhere, but I didn't always believe that.

When I was a teenager I attended an event featuring George Lucas (you know, that guy who did Star Wars and Indiana Jones?) and someone asked him The Question.

Oh yes, I thought. That's brilliant. I can't wait to hear this!

I was in total awe as he replied that coming up with ideas wasn't the problem, that he, in fact, had many more ideas than he could ever hope to work on. I sort of tuned out just then, right when it might have been wise for me to listen. That's why he's a brilliant film maker, I thought. I could never be like that.

Turns out, I was wrong. Not about the film maker thing, but about the having too many ideas thing. When you open your mind, it's frankly hard to shut them out. Most of the time anyway.

Idea Starters

Dreams: Twilight. Need I say more?

Fears: Ray Bradbury was a big proponent of this. I managed to churn out a middle grade novel involving a terrifying nightmare I had of Santa Claus kidnapping me in his UFO as my parents joyfully waved goodbye to me on Christmas Eve. It's not as marketable as Twilight. Who knew?

What ifs: "We need a vision of what the world could be." Another thing George Lucas said at that aforementioned event. I think he meant it as a positive idea starter, but millions have been made off of all the horrible ways the world could be, too.

Spin Offs: We've all seen them. A peanut novel hits the big time, suddenly there are scads of peanut novels. Some possibly bigger and better than the original. Shakespeare was fond of borrowing ideas and improving upon them. No shame in that.

Combinations: Take two or three of your pet ideas and twine them together. Sometimes the happy creation ends up wildly better than the sum of its parts. Sometimes it just kind of ends up to be a mess...but we're not focusing on that right now.

Character: A fabulous character can make the whole book. You think of someone, plop them into a world and let them go. It's nice when your characters do all the work. Which, okay, they never do, but it's nice when they do a lot of it.

And let's not forget: ideas people say you should make into a book, books you always wanted to read but don't exist, silly things your kids say, jaw-dropping news stories, historical tidbits, re-interpretations of archeological artifacts...okay, maybe I'm getting a little too weird here. The point is, ideas are a blast and they are all around. 

Idea Inviters

One thought here. Write them down. All of them.

Yes, you know That Idea won't work. Yes, you know it's probably been done better. Yes, you worry it's dumb.

That's not the point. Write it down. Do it now.

My muse gives me good ideas when I acknowledge all of her efforts. If I squelch her whisperings, she gets miffed, scared, dejected, and leaves me. When you open yourself up to ideas, get ready to receive them.

Plus, in retrospect, some of them are not as bad as you thought.

Idea Killers

I recently read something Jonathan Stroud said about a story just begun being weak and needing protection. I have heard this thought from more than one author. I suggest protecting your idea, fleshing it out, strengthening it, until it's ready to see the light of day and the critical eye of readers. 

This includes protecting it from yourself. 

You know that rewriter in you? The idea stage is not the time to invite her to the party. The idea stage is fun, it isn't about where to put your ellipses. Just like a baby needs the basics to grow, your idea does, too. Later that baby can learn to ride a bike, but give it some time to develop with your loving care before getting too demanding.

Others would disagree. They feel stymied without an audience to give them feedback, any feedback. 

So, if my nurturing sort of advice doesn't work for you, pay attention to what kills your ideas. Then hide, run from, or fight that evil influence.

Because without your idea you'll never get to The End. 

So open yourself up to ideas, write them, nurture them, and get ready to answer The Question yourself. Over and over and over :) Luckily, as I said before, it's a fun question to answer.


  1. Writing ideas down is vital to me. Most often they don't go anywhere, but at least I won't forget them. Also the act of writing allows me to not be distracted by a shiny new idea when I'm supposed to be focused on a different project, that is, as long as I just write a quick blurb and don't keep on going :)

  2. Very nice tips. I'm doing an SCBWI idea workshop in May, actually -- for the second time! And "peanut novels" makes me giggle.