On the Finding of Ideas

Last week I talked about how ideas are everywhere.  Still, writers are asked the question, “Where do you get your ideas?”

Well…where does one find ideas?  Anywhere, I suppose.  The human mind is always processing and reacting to the world.  Ideas flit into and out of our minds all the time.  It’s just a matter of cultivating the mindset of paying attention to these random ideas and holding onto them, playing with them and seeing where they’ll go.  That can take time and practice, but it gets easier.  The imagination is a muscle, and improves with regular exercise.

I’m a pretty visual person, so I find that intriguing photos and art can be inspiring, especially if the image implies an unspoken story behind it.  Or I’ll mishear something, song lyrics or a snippet of conversation, and the mishearing twists the words into something strange and thought-provoking.  Sometimes I will transcribe my dreams, which (with a little bit of elbow grease) can be turned into the start of a story.

Of course, your imagination might work differently than mine, and latch onto ideas from other places.  Maybe music inspires you, or abstract art, or a brisk walk in the park.

Whatever your source, I find writing these seeds down helps a whole lot, especially if it is an idea I may not get to working on right away.  I have a few different places I keep these:  one is a small sunflower tin full of scraps of paper, each one containing a couple of words or a phrase, nothing longer than a sentence or two that could imply…something.  Anything larger than that, a scene or a character or a setting, goes into a Scrivener file I have. (This is also where I keep lists of interesting names for people, places, and imaginary bands.)

In addition, I have a little jar full of hand-written writing prompts given as a gift from a friend, and a finely-carved wooden box full of story prompts from another friend.  These I turn to when I’m stuck and need a little push, or just want to try a writing exercise to get the wheels turning.

Some of these ideas I snap up and play with right away, and some I hold onto and put aside, throwing them into the giant stew pot that is my mind and letting them simmer.  And sometimes, when I least expect it, two or more ingredients in that stew pot react and create something greater than the sum of their parts.

That’s really all there is to it.  The world is full of idea potential.  It’s all just a matter of cultivating your imagination, learning to listen and hold onto and to play with the ideas that are just waiting for you to discover them.

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