“Where do you get your ideas?”
It’s a common question, and different writers have different ways of answering it. Some resort to philosophical or metaphysical discussions, other take up the defensive behind humorous quips. The truth is, it’s a very difficult question, and there isn’t any one-size-fits-all answer. There are as many answers to that question as there are writers.
I have shared my own methods for rationally generating ideas (Ideas: A Practical Exercise and Sparks) but I have to admit that a lot of the best ideas don’t come during the rational question & answer process I use most of the time. They are like Eureka! moments and they come unbidden and often at inconvenient times.
What do you do when you’re waiting to fall asleep at night? Or washing the dishes? Or driving somewhere familiar with the radio off? For me times like this are when I “take the reins off” my own mind and let it wander. I start thinking about my latest project without any specific question or problem in mind. And quite often some idea that may at first glance seem crazy will come out of the process.
Some of them are still crazy at second glance. But the majority of the time there is something I can use there–something that makes the story better, something that often takes it in directions unexpected even to me. This is part of what makes writing so exciting and unpredictable. You can never really tell where the lightning will strike, or what it will leave behind when it does.
We live in a very structured world, with our time divided neatly into days and hours, and somebody always more than happy to tell us what we should be focusing on at any given moment. We are very accustomed to directing our minds and our thoughts where we think they should go. I’m here today simply to remind you there is value in letting your mind off of the leash from time to time. You may be surprised what it brings back to you.