It is kind of a cliché that authors and writers get frustrated by being asked where they get their ideas from. It seems that people suspect we are part of a special club, or part of a secret mailing list. I wish it was that simple, but it isn’t. Finding ideas – good ideas – is hard work.
You have to dig for good ideas. You have to feed the muse. I recently spent a day going though Victorian-era medical articles online, and discovered gold dust. Today, I went and bought a whole heap of cheap secondhand books, including some reference books. I can guarantee that every one of those books will contain at least one new, unique and unusual idea. You just have to be ready to recognise it.
And that is the skill that writers have. They learn to grab onto a inspirational idea with both hands and hang on.
I used to think it was a joke that people ask writers about how they get ideas. This is because I suffer from an overactive ideas generator. It fires off a hundred ideas a week, and my main problem is sorting the cliche from the original idea. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. After all, a ‘good’ writer should be able to take a stale idea and make it sing. Right? Right? So often I wonder if I’m letting an idea die because I haven’t the skills. However, that aside, I thought everyone had the same problem, and it was a kind of cultural joke.
Well, of course, my viewpoint has all changed. I now know that some people believe writers pull ideas out of a hat. Apparently there is some kind of secret magic box, full of ideas and we can pull them out when we need them. Some people believe ideas aren’t the end result of some hard thinking. I’ve heard the longing in another person’s voice when I’m writing an idea in my notebook. (I find my ideas are like dreams, they seem to disappear if I don’t nail them down.) I’ve seen the ‘why is she so lucky’ look.
What I noticed when I was at uni was that part of our course seemed to be about how you went about getting ideas. Now, I often wonder how anyone thinks they can be a writer if they don’t know how to generate original ideas of their own. After all, reality sparks off so many inspirations. I can get six ideas just by watching the news or reading a science text. I can get one just by chatting with friends. I don’t see this as a gift or talent. I get ideas by keeping my eyes and ears open, and by being prepared to sit and think through an idea to a conclusion (logical or otherwise). I do believe this ability can be taught.
And most of the ‘secret magic box’ believers seem to ignore all this lovely advice. When our lecturers told us how to turn to real life text for inspiration, they ignored these gems. When they talked about research and hard work, most of them were bored and made comments under their breath. And yet, when it came time to do creative writing, they were lost for ideas. (And they weren’t suffering from writer’s block…that is an entirely different problem.) They were waiting for inspiration to fall magically from the sky.
I wish. Some people don’t understand that the 1% inspiration can be as much work as the 99% perspiration. There is no secret magic box.