An idea can come in many forms. It can be an inkling, a notion, a concept, a feeling, a thought, an understanding, a hint, a picture, an awareness, even, contentiously, a form of knowledge. Ideas arise out of embodied experience and out of the intellect. They arise out of plurality. They are changeable and multiplicitous and sometimes don’t need to be anything more than fleeting. So the problem with the question – Where do writers get their ideas from? – is that it is the wrong question. Ideas not only have no single point of origin, but they have no end. They don’t require one. And we, for sure, would be devastated (literally and imaginatively) by their complete exhaustion. Ideas don’t just propel writing and writers, but they can and should succeed them both. – Julienne Van Loon https://sydneyreviewofbooks.com/essay/where-do-writers-get-their-ideas-from/
Julienne Van Loon suggests that ideas can come from:
- Living – ‘Where do writers get their ideas from? Like everyone else, we get them from living in and with and amongst others, other people, other species, other forms of life. We get them through doing and through thinking, we get them through feeling and through reason, through imagination and through cold, hard restraint. We get them through speaking and through listening; they are ours and they are not ours and the distinction matters sometimes far less than you think.’
- Unsatisfactoriness – ‘Where do ideas come from? They come from unsatisfactoriness in all its shapes and forms, at every scale, in every direction. There is a particular form of it that each of us has seen up close, that we have struggled with either intensely, darkly, deeply, or consistently, long-field, never quite getting our heads above it. We know it. And because of that, it can propel what we write.’
- Curiosity – ‘As writers, it’s productive to ask ourselves what it is we are most curious about. What don’t I get? For me, I sometimes feel that there’s nothing I’m not curious about. Perhaps there’s nothing I actually get. It’s not that writing fiction provides a definitive answer to a question, but it can constitute an important exploration, it can approach a set of questions that were not possible to imagine before.’
- Immersive play -‘ Notional good ideas can be around for a long time, but an idea that is in development is an idea in play. Play is activity. We begin to do. But immersive play is also a mode of being. It is transformative.’
- The Long In-Between -‘It seems to me that we need, in imaginative writing, a combination of openness and commitment. Commitment doesn’t mean a novelist never throws out an idea. It means that when the project fails to work, fails to reach its full potential, the writer makes it her project to ask why, and she stays the course to deliver’.
- Succeeding – ‘Ideas don’t just propel writing and writers, but they can and should succeed them both.’
What Causes The Spark Of An Idea?
Well, all the things above can combine to get our thought processes going but what directs our thoughts? Some would say God, others magic and others believe in a muse.
Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, says: ‘When an idea thinks it has found somebody – say, you – who might be able to bring it into the world, the idea will pay you a visit. It will try to get your attention. Mostly, you will not notice. This is likely because you’re so consumed by your own dramas, anxieties, distractions, insecurities, and duties that you aren’t receptive to inspiration.’
‘But sometimes – rarely, but magnificently – there comes a day when you’re open and relaxed enough to actually receive something. Your defences might slacken and your anxieties might ease, and then magic can slip through. The idea, sensing your openness, will start to do its work on you. It will send the universal physical and emotional signals of inspiration (the chills up the arms, the hair standing up on the back of the neck, the nervous stomach, the buzzy thoughts, that feeling of falling into love or obsession). The idea will organise coincidences and portents to tumble across your path, to keep your interest keen. You will start to notice all sorts of signs pointing you towards the idea. Everything you see and touch and do will remind you of the idea. The idea will wake you up in the middle of the night and distract you from your everyday routine. The idea will not leave you alone until it has your fullest attention.’ https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/elizabeth-gilbert-when-a-magical-idea-comes-knocking-you-have-three-options-1.2474157
Using Your Ideas To Write
The author, Neil Gaiman says: The Ideas aren’t the hard bit. They’re a small component of the whole. Creating believable people who do more or less what you tell them to is much harder. And hardest by far is the process of simply sitting down and putting one word after another to construct whatever it is you’re trying to build: making it interesting, making it new.’
Neil had got fed up with people asking him where he got his ideas from, but when confronted with his daughter’s class of seven years old he felt he had to give them a proper answer. He told them…
‘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…?’
‘Another important question is, If only…’
‘And then there are the others: I wonder… (‘I wonder what she does when she’s alone…’) and If This Goes On… (‘If this goes on telephones are going to start talking to each other, and cut out the middleman…’) and Wouldn’t it be interesting if… (‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if the world used to be ruled by cats?’)…’https://www.neilgaiman.com/Cool_Stuff/Essays/Essays_By_Neil/Where_do_you_get_your_ideas%253F