Where do writers get their ideas?

Writing Ideas

This is a question that comes up a lot. It’s almost a reflex question following a writer’s answer to “What do you do?“. It’s a fair question. Writers – after all – traffic in the business of ideas and concepts. It’s not easy to answer – especially if said writer is stuck in a rut.

The Wrong Answer

Like Neil Gaiman says in his Masterclass series (2019): writers will often make fun of you for this answer, because they themselves fear the answer to the question. I am guilty of this.

Some writers may wax romantic by conjuring images of muses or voices from on high – amazing dreams where every detail is fleshed out. Others may go for broke by exalting their natural-God-given talent for the written word. Slightly more honest writers will admit that they don’t know.

All of these are wrong.

The Truth

Ever had an idea? Whether you are a writer or not, I promise you, you’ve had an idea. It might be as simple as a rad name for a band, or a innovative get-rich-quick scheme. I’m sure you’ve had something like this more than once.

And then you moved on.

Something triggers this. It could be a book or movie or chore or pure boredom. At some point your mind was left to wander and it went to amazing places. Have you overheard a conversation or the one side of a phone call and filled in the blanks yourself?

The fact is, inspiration is everywhere.

Now you are saying to yourself: “I have ideas, sure, but that doesn’t answer my question.”

Here’s the truth: writers get their ideas the same way everyone else does. But what’s the difference? Writers remember their ideas. Notebooks, voice notes, napkins, stone slab and chisel – we make a note of it.

Think Like a Writer

Writing is a skill. It has to be learnt. There is no such thing as a natural writer. As we have covered in this blog, writing requires a lot of trail and error, and knowledge of techniques and systems and esoteric structures. Alright, I might be exaggerating, but you get the gist.

The first step of becoming a writer, however, is simple: notice when you have an idea.

It takes some practice.

The simplest way to do this is to make a note of it. You might have the urge to ‘simply remember it’ – if that works for you, great – but I strongly recommend forming a habit of writing things down.

Dirty Notes

Don’t overthink your notes. This will stifle you, I guarantee it. Cast off the assumption that someone will read your notes. They ought to be for your eyes only.

So, make them dirty.

Spell things incorrectly, cross things out, change your mind, ruin tenses, etc. All that matters is getting the essence of the idea down. You can worry about structure, voice, and tense later. It might seem simple, but the simple act of not caring about how ‘clean’ your notes are is liberating.

Your mind needs to be free in order to write.

The Last Word & Promotions

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Talk to Me

Where do you get your ideas?

How messy is your notebook?

What inspires you to write?

Let me know in the comments below.

Read My Stuff

If you’re curious about my writing, head over to the Short Story segment where you’ll find a few for free! If that tickles your fancy, also have a look at my short story collection via the links below.

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