When people ask me where I get my ideas, I always have a hard time answering. Usually I say something about the inspiration for my most recent work.
Being asked where I get ideas always throws me, and I have to work hard not to stare at the asker like they’re nuts. The real answer is that I can’t imagine anyone going through life without having at least one idea that would make a cool story every day.
They come from pictures, news stories, views out the car window, the weather, something funny someone says…how can you not have ideas? My brain is always going “What if…”
I’ve attended workshops where the instructors handed out a magazine article to each student and told them to go off and write a story after reading the article. No problem. I’ve also been in workshops where “go have an idea, write about it, and bring the story back to the next session” was standard. I never had a problem having an idea on short notice, nor did any of my fellow students.
I’ve had the good fortune to be invited to write for anthologies. Only once, very early in my career, did I fail to come up with an idea that fit the theme. It was a martial arts anthology, not a subject that sings to me.
The truth is, the idea is the easy part. It’s turning it into a story that’s work. Very gratifying work, but work nonetheless, and if the idea turns out to be a novel or a trilogy or a series with no end in sight…you have to make a commitment to it.
Sometimes the decision is to set it aside. I have several novel ideas waiting to be written. Also a handful of short story ideas. Like many writers, I have a harder time writing short, so I often set goals to write so many short stories in a year, just to practice.
If you’re looking for ideas, flip through a magazine—ANY magazine— and look at the pictures, the headlines, even the ads. (Some writers use collage to tap into their creative subconscious. I’ve done that too.) If an article snags your attention, read it. Snip whatever caught your eye and pin it up in your office where you can see it. Think about the story that could grow out of that idea. Eventually the story will insist on being written, or you’ll lose interest in that idea and find another one.
Ideas are easy, but Deborah’s right—you have to capture them, or they’ll vanish. Jot down a note, clip the article or the picture, whatever it takes to keep that idea alive in your imagination. Then when it’s simmered a bit, sit down and write a few notes about it. You may find yourself launching into writing a story.