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"Where do You Get Your Ideas From?"

This tends to be the first thing people ask me when I tell them I’m a writer, and usually my reply either disappoints or confuses them, or both.

Where do I get my ideas from?

shrug

Well.

It’s not as simple as that. Writing prompts can help and have sparked ideas several times, but I know several people who say they can’t write without inspiration – writing prompts make no difference there, and neither do ideas.

I used to wait for inspiration when I was younger – you can’t just force the words to come, right? – but I don’t any more. I know a lot people who say they want to write, but can’t find the motivation or the inspiration to get any words down. The will is there but the ideas are lacking.

I write down a few ideas before I start writing my draft, but most ideas come as I write. The ones that emerge while I write are usually the best ones. But to get those I have to actually, well, write. It’s frustrating, and maybe this works for you, but I can’t sit down with the intention of getting a new idea and just have one. Ideas happen to me, I can’t force them short of actually writing – which guarantees nothing!

If you want to write, all you have to do is start and do it. It doesn’t matter if inspiration doesn’t hit you right away, or if you start with a weak idea that needs fleshing out. In the words of Maya Angelou-

maya angelou quoteInspiration isn’t magic, even if it feels like it when it hits. The rush of a new idea or the solution to a pesky problem can be exhilarating, but if you’re going to wait for that most awesome of feelings before you start writing you might be in for a long wait.

I find this is something that really divides the crowd. A lot of people believe in the words of Maya Angelou, and I’m one of those people. But I also know a lot of others who swear they can’t force it, and would rather wait for weeks, months, sometimes longer than just try.

Where do you get your ideas from? What do you do when you lack inspiration? Do you write anyway – you can always cut things that don’t work in the edit, after all – or do you wait? What do you do when you have to wait for months, and nothing changes? I know some people who get frustrated when inspiration won’t come, and I don’t want you to experience the same thing! Talk to me, and maybe we can figure something out.

Or maybe you do have a solution? A way of finding inspiration? Get a cookie and let’s have a chat!

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14 Comments

  1. A shrug is the best reply. It’s hard to pin point one definite way to spark an idea, or what causes a spark to form and mould into a draft worthy idea. Writing prompts are a big source of inspiration for me, but songs, poems, pictures do just as well.

    However, it’s not just narrative ideas we need, we need character ideas too. The life of writers, eh? Again another shrug would suffice haha. It could be overhearing dialogue in the supermarket queue or noticing a quirky turn of the lip in a stranger.

    I think that’s half the glory of creativity. You either can or can’t think up ideas, or grow a seed of information into full stories. πŸ™‚

    • That’s exactly how I reply – I shrug, and either say it’s not that simple or I tell them ideas can come from anything. I usually say both since only one never seems to be good enough.

      I do like writing prompts, they work brilliantly for me when I feel stuck or just need to write something. Of course, the new book I started writing this week started from a prompt πŸ˜‰

      The life of writers indeed! Try telling them it’s the characters that inform the narrative, that really confuses people when I say it! It’s hard to understand for people who don’t write that the words don’t just come from me, they come from my characters, too. It’s not just me deciding what needs to happen, they act on their own.

      • Exactly! Only recently I was talking about a funny piece of dialogue with my friends and I said, ‘And then he said…’
        They were like- ‘No, you nutter, you said it because you write it. He’s not real.’ I was like :O GO WASH YOUR MOUTHS OUT!

      • That’s the best response I can think of, haha! Vile accusations!! :O
        I tried explaining it to my Mum because she was asking me a lot of questions about the writing process itself, and I don’t think she understands it.
        I’m writing two new chapters this week (for Rise of the Sparrows, which needs to be done by Friday. No pressure) and only this morning something happened which I never expected! I don’t know if it will go anywhere, but that it’s happened now, so late in the process, is very exciting!

  2. I enjoyed this post – saying that, I haven’t come across one that I haven’t liked. I’m with you on this one πŸ™‚
    Whenever I get asked that question, my reply is usually “I don’t know.”
    For my novel, it originated from a short story dialogue prompt that wasn’t even planned but just formed on itself. The dialogue prompt had no relation to the bulk of the story.
    A first draft of a novel I wrote two years ago came about by just writing and turned into a 100,000 word novel.
    I agree with the quote you attached. Sometimes you can just write gibberish until you start writing something that fits. Other times it can be that you are mid conversation and a thought hits.
    Sometimes I just write dialogue and see where that leads. Starts with hello and then see how it is answered. Most of the dialogue I write is formed not by myself but the characters in the story. That confuses lots of people but the characters have feelings too and to me are real!
    Sometimes you just need to ignore inspiration and grabs the bull by its horns and ride it to the creative zone πŸ™‚
    Sorry for the waffling!

    • Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it! πŸ™‚ It’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t write where ideas come from. Saying that they usually just happen to me never seems enough to them. ‘I don’t know’ tends to be my reply, too. I can’t explain it since I can’t force them, but there are so many things that can influence one to come.
      I do like that quote! I posted it last year when I still posted quotes every Wednesday, and it’s stuck with me. It’s my go-to motivation on days when I feel like it’s not going well.
      Most of my writing forms the same way – through the characters, not as much through me. There are so many things happening in Rise of the Sparrows that I hadn’t planned, which my characters have made happen, that I’ve been told were excellent. It’s sad to think that those parts might never have made it in if I hadn’t listened to my characters.
      Never apologise for waffling – not in a place called Cookie Break πŸ˜‰

      • It must be sad to think about all the amazing things the characters came up with just for them not to be there anymore. At least you have those moments and from experience I know how amazing they are πŸ™‚

  3. Part of me never did quite grow out of childhood’s make-believe and the urge to play at soldiers and adventures rattles about in my head, I’ve managed to distil this into writing. (I’ll never be able to write about the real world though…oh well…never mind)

    • Well, we can’t be good at everything πŸ™‚ At least you’ve found your genre, and it works well for you. I remember being a teenager and trying to force a genre which just doesn’t work for me (I tried to write thrillers, because I read a lot of Karin Slaughter at the time)!

  4. Just tell them something crazy like, aliens speak to you and tell you about this world. Its actually a real planet in our universe and your characters are real and exist, and its historically accurate to what happened on that planet. That makes it more exciting. They might think your nuts but they won’t be disappointed.
    I agree. Pin pointing where you got your ideas is difficult. New ideas come up at different times. Sometimes something may spark the idea, other times it just comes to you and there may be other times you have to work at it and it may take a days or weeks to develop further.
    I’ve never had anyone ask me where I got my ideas yet. Though I’m sure, I will get the same responses. So far, I have gotten all of my story ideas from dreams and I developed it further by brainstorming. Also, I tend to get a lot of ideas while writing the story so waiting to get every idea into an outline doesn’t work for me.

    • That is a much better response than mine! I’ll have to use that one next time. It may not be true but the truth is boring.
      It’s really quite fascinating where ideas can come from. Sometimes you don’t realise until years later that a moment has inspired you. I read a quote yesterday that said that, if you’re a writer, no moment is wasted, no matter how heart-breaking or mundane.

  5. Great post Sarina! I have to shrug too. Inspiration comes and goes as it pleases, whenever it so chooses to. I love that quotation from Maya Angelou. I think it suits my own experience quite well. I can get any ideas but once I sit down and write, it its true inspiration, the story blossoms. If not, it just remains an idea to be put aside for another day when it can become more.
    Every day presents new opportunities to be inspired. Whether those inspirations will lead to a complete novel or just a story prompt to practice with depends on the day, depends on the experience.
    Thanks for posting this. It is inspired πŸ˜‰

    • That’s exactly how IO usually now that I’m on to something – when I write and the words just flow, without me needing to think about it too much. When the story develops and the ideas come without much effort on your part you know you’ve got something good!
      Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it and could relate!

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