“Where Do You Get Your Ideas?”


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.

-JDT-

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13 thoughts on ““Where Do You Get Your Ideas?”

  1. I think the question is phrased differently in my mind. What inspires you? What inspired this particular piece? This belief? I think I do have that question in my mind for most people and at most times, not just writers. Aren’t all ideas born of inspiration? I am more interested in your beloved and you making up stories about things you come across together than about the actual abandoned vehicle. That in turn inspires me to look at the world differently. New world, new ideas. I wish I could ask Picasso.

    Good point. I guess I still maintain most artists don’t have to deal with that one as much as writers do, though. It’s funny in a way, because when I see beautiful artwork, the inspiration is usually clear. When someone reads great writing, though, that inspiration might be much more difficult to identify. Hm. You’ve got me thinking now, Jaymie; thanks! :)

  2. My favourite writers, as I’m told, get their ideas from current events and/or things happening in their own lives then try to see how their characters would behave when dealt with those same issues.

    For example, John Swartzwelder took a current event issue like waiting periods for guns and conceived a storyline about Homer Simpson trying to get a gun because he was mad but had to wait the seven days. From there, what would Homer do in that situation?

    Very true. I think a lot of writers express what happens to them in their work, in some form or another. And yeah, what WOULD Homer do in a situation where he had to wait seven days to get a gun? How’d that turn out?

    • He sat in a lawnchair in his front yard for seven days. In the meantime, ducks walked by him, then his sister-in-laws rode by on a tandem bike.

      Ugh, Patty and Selma on a bike. Gross image. Sounds like a fun episode.

  3. I agree, they word the question wrong. What is your inspiration? Well, I think it is more because the general public wants to know what makes you tick. What would make Stephen King write about a woman purposely breaking a man’s ankle to keep him with her? Or you Darc, what would make you write the way you do? What makes you tick like that? What inspires you to write the way you do?

    What inspires me to write the way I do? Well, I guess loving Stephen King’s work has something to do with it, at least 30 years ago it did. And now I just like to vent my bile and vitriol, so I write stories that make people cringe. It was either that or writing about politics.

    Honestly, in my opinion, society as a whole prefers the more gruesome terrible ordeals you must have gone through to be so creative, so visual, so detailed. In my opinion society as a whole sucks. I mean, really, why can it not be what it is just because that is what struck you at that moment in time? Like you said, driving down the road and it just strikes you the things you can create from it. Or if you want a less skeptical and jadded view, maybe they are just trying to inspire other minds out there by finding out what inspires yours.

    I don’t know; I’ve never once read a great novel and wondered where the inspiration came from. Somehow I always knew the great storytellers just had stories to tell, so they told them. It was always that simple to me. *Shrug* Maybe I’m odder than I thought.

    • First of all, I don’t cringe at your work. I get chills and love every word! It’s very much something I enjoy, that type of writting. Stephen King too, I remember the Tower series I couldn’t put down from book one through the end all too fondly. Think it was the happiest time of my husbands life because I was so quiet. :D

      Hehehehe. That’s funny. I miss my wife when she’s engrossed with something else. And I’m happy enough with “chills” vs. “cringe”. :D

      Secondly, I don’t wonder, it is what it is, it’s there for your enjoyment, take it or leave it. Okay, so I wonder when I will get to read the next piece of yours, but I don’t wonder where it came from. Maybe that is because I already know, it lives in me too.

      Well, that’s good. I just know the most frequently asked question of all writers is “Where do you get your ideas?”, but I don’t think other writers ask each other that. I don’t think. But now I know about one of them; Bryce is stealing all the ones I leave in the yard.

      • :D Well you need to stop leaving them lying around. Or get a guard dog, or better yet, get WGISF to bring over his opossum. ;)

        And maybe a raccoon or two.

  4. I get my ideas from a kid that lives down the street. He just leaves them lying around his yard, so I steal them after his mom calls him inside.

    I wondered where all my stuff went! Dangit, give it back!

  5. My best ideas come out of the blue. My fingers are already on the keyboard, moving fast, and the first time I’m aware of having a certain thought is as I’m in the process of typing it.

    Woo! Pants-seat writing at its finest! :D Nothing wrong with that!

  6. For my #5secfic I just pull random crap out of the air, string it together, and voila… I disturb my husband ;) He told me the other day that I would probably make a better horror author than him.

    I double-dog dare ya to give it a shot. Why not? :D

    I don’t think I wanna know where your inspiration for the cut-her-to-pieces-with-a-finely-honed-blade-while-she-thinks-her-dad-knows-where-she-is-and-is-coming-to-get-her story. That was a dark lonely place in your soul, but I liked it.

    Well, thank you, dear. Yes, there’s a dark place in there; but I mostly don’t venture in. Which is a shame, sort of, because there’s a lot of story material in there, probably. I can’t say for sure, because I don’t get in there much. Kinda like an attic I suppose … or maybe a cellar. With a trunk in it. At the bottom of a shallow grave.

  7. Where do I get my ideas? What is my inspiration?

    I aim to do things that have never been done before. Ideas that pop into my head get pulled this way and that like taffy until I have something I like and then I write it. That is part of my writer’s block. I quit pulling so when I write something I end up tossing it out because in the end it isn’t what I wanted.

    Hm. Well, I recommend “Jump Start: How to Write from Everyday Life”; chock FULL of good ideas for exercises to break writer’s block. Give it look!

    You MUST want what you write. If I write something outside of my typical comfort zone I really need to want it or it won’t work in the end. I can spew all day long about zombies but if I move outside of that I get all wonky.

    That’s interesting. I find it invigorating to write outside my normal comfort zone; I think it energizes my work by expanding my horizons and helps me write better within my comfort zone. But that’s just me — every writer’s different. :)

    To actually answer your question the ideas come from dark diseased recess of my mind.

    That describes most of my frontal lobes.

    Thank you and goodnight

    Good night, and thanks for coming. :)

  8. I think Neil Gaiman says he gets his ideas from the idea store. But probably a lot of writers have said that.

    I can’t really answer. Things click in my head. I’m usually in the middle of doing something rather mindless–washing dishes, taking a shower, driving (I know driving takes part of the mind, but…), and something pops into my head. It is impossible to explain. Sometimes I sit down to write and think of an image that has been in my head and go from there. And once in a great while an idea comes from someone else (usually the husband) saying, “Hey, why don’t you try…”

    That’s all I can say.

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