The question “Where do you get your ideas (from)?” is one every writer of any fame, however small, is going to be asked.
Back in July, my beloved got to meet her new favorite author at our local library. He’s a mid-list, run-of-the-mill sort of author, not a blockbuster like Clancy, Patterson or King, but he’s talented and writes books LOML really enjoys. So, when Ben and Kristy came through and enabled us to go have him autograph his latest book for her, it was a treat.
What my love heard amounted to a discussion of his newest book and an FAQ. One of the things he addressed first is the old “Where do you get your ideas (from)?” question. (Yeah, that last preposition is part of the question around these parts. *Sigh*.)
I complained – and still do – about this. Other artists in other media, with the exception perhaps of Gary Larson and his destined-to-live-forever The Farside comic strip, don’t get this question. No one asked Bach where he got his ideas; no one asked DaVinci or Michelangelo where they got their ideas; no one asked Picasso where he got his or what the hell was wrong with him. No one asks Britney Spears where she gets the ideas for her concerts, songs or dance moves. No one quizzes ballerinas how they got into ballet or where they get their inspiration. No one asked Walt Disney where he got his ideas.
Nope, it’s only writers, for the most part, who get this question. “Where do you get your ideas (from)?” It’s a little annoying, frankly.
Writers, like other artists, are generally inspired by a lot of things. Anything can provide story ideas. I had a slew of them years ago when I saw a car abandoned on a lonely, dark country road. My wife and I went on for hours making up stories of serial killers and femme fatales, unsuspecting travelers with car trouble running afoul of murderous farmers or cops with compulsions for sex slaves and bloodshed. Songs can inspire. Other books can inspire. I know one writer who started her bard’s journey because she wanted to write fan fiction for Avatar: The Last Airbender. (Yeah, the cartoon. Whatever floats your boat, I guess.)
Inspiration can’t be qualified, quantified or even summarized well, by artists or by writers. In the end, writers are just artists in the medium of words; we paint pictures we hope our readers can see and enjoy. Stephen King calls this “mental telepathy”, wherein a writer and reader, separated by time and space, share mental images to varying degree of success. But only writers are asked wherefore that inspiration comes.
Perhaps it’s because we work in words we get this so much. Everyone uses words in some capacity, but because writers weave dreams, nightmares, stories and plots and characters and make words seem so alive, so full of vigor and vibrancy, so much like art … well, maybe the non-writer can’t understand how our words are so differently assembled than theirs. It’s easier for them, perhaps, to see lines, brush strokes, colors and textures on a page and wonder at the magic they convey because they know they themselves lack the ability (talent, training, effort) to do it themselves. So they accept it for what it is. But for writers, well … we all use words, why are yours so … different somehow?
Could that be it? Is that perhaps the reason writers are grilled about their ideas? Because deep down most people feel they know how to use words, use them everyday, and wonder if they, too, could do this writing thing? Or is it something more, something I’ve not seen, something I don’t yet understand?
What do you think, writers? And readers, what compels you, if you are so compelled, to ask that question of authors you love?
Sound off, y’all. I’d love to hear from you.
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