Plumbing the well

As writers, all of us have gotten The Question at some time or another.  A friend asks about the story we’re working on, or someone reads something we’ve written or published, or finds out that we’re writers…and, inevitably, The Question comes out:  “So, where do you get your ideas?”

What do you say?  Where do you get your ideas?

For me, there are two possible answers.

The first is that my ideas come from a combination of:

1. new experiences – be they informative, sensory, or whatever, and…

2. time for my brain to mull them over and combine them in interesting ways.

The new experiences may be anything from traveling to a new place, smelling or tasting something I haven’t before, hearing an interesting TED talk or listening to a friend tell me about their research or ideas, seeing a performance or piece of art, trying out a new activity or developing a new skill.  Something that triggers me to think about old ideas in a new way.  Anything new, really.

By “time for the brain” I really mean time in which I can get my brain to stop fretting over the here and now.  Time to stop worrying about that lecture I haven’t written yet or when I’m going to get the grocery shopping done.  Time to ponder.  This typically comes when I’m zoned out on the subway, out for a walk or a jog, or the like.

So, my story ideas often come from this combination of new sensory/information input + time for my brain to subconsciously do cool stuff with that input.

The second answer I sometimes give to The Question is that coming up with ideas for stories has gotten a lot easier than it used to be.  When I first started writing, I had to really sit down and think.  And most of what I came up with was pretty trite and cliched.  Over time, though, the process described above began to happen.  My ideas came more quickly and were more complex and interesting. I learned that the first two or three ideas I came up were probably the same ones anyone would think of and started going with the fourth or fifth idea.  I learned more about what makes a good story and my brain started processing information accordingly.  Nifty brain.

So, that’s how it works for me.  And I expect if I were to rewrite this post in a year or two, I’d have a different answer then, just as I would have had a different answer a few years ago.

So, where do your ideas come from?  What’s your answer when someone asks The Question?

One thought on “Plumbing the well

  1. George Galuschak

    I sit in front of the computer until something comes up.

    Harlan Ellison has a much more interesting answer. He says he gets his ideas from “a post office box in Schenectady. You send in two dollars and a self-addressed stamped envelope and they send you back an idea.”

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