Where My Ideas Come From: The Definitive List

A bit late in the week for a new post, but I’ve had a hell of a week and my writing is off-pace so screw it, I’m only writing 2000 words today and am going to finish up with a blog post instead.

I’m wrapping up a blog tour today (check out my post on The Dark Phantom Review!) and I’ve done a few interviews (most of which, for some reason, didn’t surface on the internet – go figure). Anytime I do an interview, one question usually crops up:

Where do you get your ideas?

It has it’s variants, too: “What inspires you?” or “where do you look for inspiration?” and stuff like that. It’s a perfectly reasonable question, too – lots of people would like to know where an author gets his or her ideas. Seems pertinent, interesting, and so on.

How I feel answering that question.

How I feel answering that question.

Except it’s totally unanswerable. I mean, sure, there are rare occasions where I can trace an idea back to a particular moment in time, but the vast, vast majority of my “inspiration” is ineffable. It is the particulate matter filtered from the substrate of my life and experiences. Asking somebody (anybody!) where they get their ideas is kinda like asking “why do you like grapes?” Jesus – hell if I know! Why do you like grapes? Did you take a grape aptitude test? Is enthusiasm for grapes a genetic trait shared with your extended family? Did you, on March 17th 1985, eat a grape and then, from that moment on, grapes and you were best buddies? Or was it just, you know, that article in The New Yorker you read last year that talked about how good grapes taste?

Now, I usually try not to answer that question that way because it’s a bit rude and the interviewer is nice enough to do me this favor of interviewing me and I don’t want to be a jerk. But the answers I furnish (I read history; I’ve worked a lot of odd jobs; I loved book X which inspired me to riff off the concept of Y) are half-truths and abstractions. Inspiration is not a mechanical process or a simply understood one. Our ideas are synthesized from the full range of our experiences and combine in odd and unpredictable ways and I can’t tell you how it works because it isn’t a thing that I can explain. It’s a frustrating question, therefore, no matter how reasonable it is.

Seeing as my standard reaction to frustration is sarcasm, and seeing how I’m feeling frustated today, here is the definitive list of things I wish I could say as an answer to “where do you get your ideas,” but never will because they are mean and I’m not Tyvian Reldamar:

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

  • From a box buried in my yard. There are lots of ideas in there scribbled on paper. I don’t know how it got there.
  • God. Duh.
  • All of my ideas come exclusively from the crawl at the bottom of MSNBC.
  • I play Bananagrams long enough that, by random chance, whole plots are formed in the random scatter of letters.
  • Your mom.
  • I steal my ideas at gunpoint from local “creatives.” Then I make them sign a non-compete.
  • I have no ideas. Ideas are an illusion. We are all an illusion. Nothing really matters.
  • MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF PEYOTE!
  • At night, I throw off my human husk and feed off the dreams of neighborhood children with my single, jawless mouth.
  • All ideas come from the American Idea Book, Tenth Edition, available at exclusive bookstores nationwide. There are no ideas anywhere else. This is the secret that all the writers have been keeping from y… (silenced gunshot) (dull thump) (silence)
  • I trapped a leprechaun once and made a wish.
  • If you stare at Twitter long enough, ideas are formed in your brain like tumors. Then you have to remove them through your nose with a long, pointed hook before they become malignant and turn into pop songs or commercial jingles. This is, incidentally, why pop songs and jingles get stuck in your head – you had an idea, but didn’t remove it in time to save it.
  • I keep my eyes open when I yawn, and then I see the ideas the gods tried to hide from me.
  • This guy named Leon. No, not that Leon – you don’t know him. If you did, you’d have the same ideas I do, and then we’d have to have a duel to the death like in that show Highlander. No, not the movie, the show.
  • I gained access to my permanent record from elementary school, wherein I discovered that all my creative ideas were siphoned out by my teachers during recess and stored for a later date.
  • You need to get an Idea License. There’s a course you take down at the city annex and a twenty question true/false exam. Costs like $40 or something.
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About aahabershaw

Writer, teacher, gaming enthusiast, and storyteller. I write stories, novels, and occasional rants.

Posted on July 1, 2016, in Critiques, Theories, and Random Thoughts and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. david korabell

    I always felt creative people just connect the dots that other won’t bother to. Where most people would see an ugly green shirt, a creative might wonder why they made a shirt from alien skin. When Harlan Ellison was asked about the story “Jeffty is Five”, he said at a party he overheard the line
    “Jeff is fine, Jeff is always fine” as “Jeff is five, Jeff is always five” and the rest came from that.

    Many writers have had a misheard or misunderstood phrase as creative inspiration. We take that idea
    and then start going with what’s next.

  2. Martin L. Shoemaker

    You forgot Schenectady!

  3. Martin L. Shoemaker

    More seriously, David’s answer is very close to mine. After thinking and observing a lot, I have come to suspect that everybody has ideas, all the time, but most people have a Nonsense Filter. When an idea is impractical or irrelevant or just nonsense, they immediately throw it away. Sometimes they throw it away without noticing. Sometimes they notice and chuckle at the incongruity, and then move on. Sometimes they notice, shake their heads, say “That was dumb,” and move on.

    But us? We get struck with a random thought — again as David mentions, it might be a misreading or mishearing — and rather than throw it away, we follow it. I once had a glimpse of a truck for Boarshead Beer, but I only caught part of the words. My mind filled in with “battle boars”. Somehow that instantly became “hardened battle boars”. It took only an instant for me to see what the real words were, so a functioning Nonsense Filter would’ve caused me to drop the subject. Instead, my brain was off and running, designing a culture where they ride into battle on massive armored boars with steel-plated tusks. (Someday, my D&D players are in for such a surprise…)

    If I’m right, then it’s possible for one to learn to “generate” ideas by learning to ignored the Nonsense Filter. When an absurd thought arises in your day, write it down. Later, go through your notes. Some really will be Nonsense, but some will be gems.

    • my solution to creative blockage or teaching someone to be more creative is: take two very dissimilar
      things /ideas list the ways they are alike, and try to imagine them more alike. e.g. family dog & kitchen sink, – both noisy, both are wet,…

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