People often ask where writers get ideas. Beginning writers seem to have an overarching concern that their ideas will run dry. First off, I don’t think this can actually happen. I have never sat down to write without some sort of idea forming. Beyond that, I think that your truly original ideas begin to develop after you’ve worked through the obvious tropes and cliches that plague a writer’s earliest ideas.
That being said, you can train your brain to passively create ideas for you. This involves making creative connections. A good writer doesn’t come up with an idea because of something literal that happens to him. An original idea is developed because of the connections that individual writer makes. Those connections are what make your ideas different from mind, and mine different from Stephen King’s.There are techniques and tools to help you foster this ability. Ultimately, they boil down to brainstorming.
In my first fiction writing class, my professor had an interesting way of doing this. I call it Psychopathic Brainstorming.
1) Get a blank notebook. Any cheap back-to-school notebook will do.
2) Get a bunch of recycled magazines. Any magazine. It doesn’t matter. They are easy to come up with.
3) Cut random, interesting words out of the magazine. This is the psychopath part. You will end up with a pile of words that looks like you are preparing to send a ransom note to the New York Times.
4) Tape one word to the top of each page.
Congratulations. You have built an idea journal. When you need an idea, go to a blank page, and look at the word at the top of the page. Start writing about that word. Free associate. What does that word mean to you? What comes to mind when you see it, even if it isn’t related on the surface? You chose certain words for your journal for a reason. It may be totally subliminal, but those words mean something to you.
By making new connections with those words, you are making associations that are unique to you. That is where ideas come from. Somewhere along the line, you may get an idea. If nothing else, you will have developed a theme to build a story idea around.
Even better, you will be on your way to developing the instinct to constantly make creative connections in your daily life, even without the journal to prompt you. Then you will understand why writers talk about having too many ideas, rather than not enough. My friend R.L. Naquin compares it to having a head full of bees. For me, it’s a constant pressure against my skull. (It’s not a tumah!) The problem isn’t getting an idea, but getting the rest of them to stop distracting you long enough to develop it.
Good luck, and get to writing.
One quick news update. My short story “The Polka Man” will be appearing in the anthology Faed from A Murder of Storytellers. I will be sure to post links when the anthology is available for purchase.