Today's Tune: Mouthwash
Neil Gaiman wrote an essay I really enjoyed on one of the most dreaded questions that can be asked of a writer: where do you get your ideas?
Okay, maybe not one of the most dreaded, but one of the most annoying. Neil's standard answer is pretty much it:
"'I make them up,' I tell them. 'Out of my head.'"
He goes on to state that ideas aren't the important thing, anyway. "Everyone's got an idea for a book, a movie, a story, a TV series." And it's so very true. We hear it time and time again that ideas are a dime a dozen, but EXECUTION is what gets you through the door.
Eventually, Neil does expand on his process for ideas when asked the same question by a child. He says:
"You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we're doing it.
You get ideas when you ask yourself simple questions. The most important of the questions is just, What if...?"
I love this. I can relate to it. I'm certainly not published yet, but even so I've still been asked where I came up with X idea, and I never really know what to say. I came up with it from everywhere.
Sometimes snippets come from dreams I've had, though I don't want to pretend I've ever dreamed up a completed story. Sometimes I read a news article, and something sticks with me and my mind starts building around it. Sometimes I see a person and wonder what their story is, and it comes to me.
Ideas just come. Some of them get thrown away, some get toyed with, and some stick around and get written. Ever since I've started actively focusing on catching my ideas for possible use at a later date, I've been keeping a notebook, which ALL writers should keep, I think. You don't have to be the person that fills them with microscopic notes, but you should keep one just to jot down your ideas as they flit through your brain. You never know when one might be worth keeping.
Thing is, there's no magic to ideas. We all have them. We can all catch them. The trick is getting them to work for us. It's no use having a GREAT IDEA! if you can't put it on a page in a cohesive way. I've known people who do this, as I'm sure we all do - they have so many ideas. Awesome ideas! Unique ideas! But they won't write a word. They're scared, or don't know where to start. The problem is, of course, that an idea can't turn into a story if you can't or won't write the story.
There's a certain mysticism around writers, as though we all just pluck these plots out of thin air and write them in their entirety and then BAM! A book! As we all know, it is nothing like that. It is so rare, if not impossible, for a story to come to us fully formed. They start as seeds - seeds that will never grow if we don't give them proper care.
My idea for The Tick-Tock Hearts came from a "what if?" question, actually. But it wasn't a plot. It wasn't a protagonist. It was just an idea.
So that's the big secret about writers and ideas... we just get them. From everything. Everywhere. All the time.