Where do you get your ideas? This has to be the question writers, and probably other creatives (a term I define fairly broadly), get most often. I think it’s kind of a funny one, to be honest. For me, I never feel a shortage of ideas. I’m currently only three books (of five) into writing The Bonegates Series and already I have another fantasy-dystopian-esque series, concerning Portland, witches, a plethora of tattoos, and talking crows brewing in the back of my mind!
But still, people ask it, so I’d like to try and answer where my ideas come from. Clearly, this is different for different people, so don’t take this as prescriptive advice. It’s merely my situation.
- My most influential source of ideas is other books. Or audiobooks (found for free at your local library or pay for an audible subscription) for those people who are about to tell me they don’t have time to read but have a commute and a smartphone. Guess what? You also have time to read! Personally, I believe to be a writer, especially a fiction writer, you have to be a reader and you have to read widely. That being said, many people disagree with this idea. They claim that if they read other people’s works they won’t be able to come up with original content. To that I say, “Do you really think your work is that original?” I can’t think of a single book, show, movie, etc that is NOT derivative of SOMETHING. Let’s cut the BS. It’s all been done before, stop being so precious about being creative. What hasn’t been done is your (or my) particular spin on what has been done before. No one other person on Earth has had your exact life experience and you bring your particular experience to your story. Your experience, your words, your life, and your spin are what makes the story special.
- Film is another hotbed of ideas. Sometimes, when I’m actually trying to study pacing (which I think film gets right more often than novels because they have to) or a character I know is particularly well done in a film and I want to emulate I’m all attention, taking it in. I’ve even been known to take a note or two. Most of the time, however, when I watch a movie or show my brain is off. I read all day and to just be able to sit back and not actively work to take in a story is a really nice reprieve. Still, my brain is working when I’m trying to be a vegetable! In fact, just recently, I watched a movie and a single line said as a joke by one particularly annoying character spawned an opening scene of a novel I’d like to write one day. A single line out of thousands! That’s pretty amazing and I bet that if you let your mind wander where it will on whatever interests you in a movie/show you too could easily find inspiration to create.
- Folklore/religion/myths are personal favorites for sources of inspiration because I try to inject a little bit of them into every project I write. Even my most urban and contemporary ideas will have something, a line, a subplot, a character which harkens back to one of these cultural aspects. It’s how I make my world richer, more full. I may never tell the reader explicitly that is what I did (though I often do), but I’ll know, and perhaps a few very perceptive readers will catch it. In some of my works like The Starseed Trilogy, my love for mythology and studying religion is quite obvious.
- Writers can often be known for being hermits, and I’m not going to lie, I do like being at home, alone, in the quiet and writing. I like it a lot. But if that was all I did how would I ever be able to accurately represent the world around me? You could say other books and film but those are only a person/person’s spin on what is around you. Easily manipulated, just as your worldview is. And maybe that’s OK to write from another person’s worldview, but not for me. I want to write from mine and to do that, I have to get outside. Walk your neighborhood, go to a coffee shop, watch and listen on the metro instead of staring at your phone, do whatever is accessible to you! The outside world is rife with inspiration, but you have to get out there to find it.
- Podcasts are a wealth of inspiration! Even after I listen to the purely informative/business ones I usually come out with an idea for some sort of project (it may veer more towards marketing – but that’s still creative right?). If you don’t listen to podcasts specializing in the industry you are interested in, you are really missing out on a wellspring of free, accessible if you have a smartphone, usually well researched (do your homework people, don’t just listen to any Tom, Dick, or Henrietta), and you can listen on the go.
- Kids. I don’t have kids, but I do watch children at a daycare occasionally. Not to mention, many of my friends have kids and let me tell you, they are never without some sort of crazy inspiration! If you’re uninspired sometimes it helps to look to someone who is inspired. Look to your child, go to a park and sit on a bench and just listen to what they are saying (in a non-creepy manner please). You can find some gold nuggets in those tiny-humans because their imagination is limitless and often, they have little filter. If you’re not into the idea of hanging around kids, perhaps try to invite a sense of child-like wonder into your day. Do a cartwheel just because. Color. Sprint down the street grinning. Do anything you’ve ever seen a child do, perhaps it will spark a bit of inspiration in your own life.
I could go on, but those are definitely my tops sources of inspiration. I think the key is to keep your eyes open. LISTEN more than you speak because if you’re busy talking how are you ever going to notice anything else happening around you? If you listen now you can use your voice later, like when you want to launch your awesome new creation into the world.
Now, go forth and create.