Where do Ideas come from?
Probably the question I get asked more than any other as an author is where my ideas come from.
First of all, I’d like to debunk the myth that writers have better ideas than people who don’t write. It’s simply not true. It’s what people do with ideas that really counts.
I think it’s different for every author out there, how they turn an idea into something to put down on the page, but I’ll give you my personal top four.
This may sound like a fairly obvious one, but I can’t stress it enough. And it’s not just reading, but reading widely. Having worked for some time to empower children in their creative writing, it is so clear to me from their writing which children do read and which don’t. Children who read are more likely to take risks with their writing which, ultimately, is more fulfilling to read. So it’s no different for adults.
Reading is a pleasure for me, not a chore, so I can’t say I read in order to get ideas, but they bubble up naturally as I drink in the different stories and styles from the wealth of fabulous reading out there. For that reason, I am very particular about what I read and also, if I’m not enjoying something, I have no problem with putting it aside and picking up something that fizzes with the beauty of a well-told story.
I think we are all hard-wired to spend time in nature and if we don’t heed that call, we may suffer in unexpected ways. Whether it’s talking a morning walk, swimming in a lake, appreciating the splendour of an ancient tree, watching the sun set over the hills, working in the garden or going camping for the weekend, when we tune into the marvel of nature that unfolds around us each and every day, the natural world hands us something back: perspective and clarity. The upside of that (at least for me, I can’t vouch for other writers!) is a flowing river of ideas from which to fish for my stories.
For as long as I can remember, being in motion has really helped ideas to flow. Taking a walk in natural surroundings, as previously mentioned, can be particularly lovely, but it doesn’t just have to be this. In the past, I have had fantastic ideas for my stories whilst on the bus, going for a run and raking leaves. Whether rural, urban or suburban, just moving somehow, anyhow, can unstuck stuck ideas, or throw up ideas you never even knew you had.
I first wrote Morning Pages back in 2004 as part of The Artist’s Way, a self-development course designed to help people recognise and use their innate creativity. The idea was to write a stream of consciousness for three A4 sides the first thing every morning (and yes, this meant having to set my alarm clock for earlier – not easy!) – not too much thinking and no letting your internal critic cross things out or think of the perfect way to phrase something. I found this hugely instructive in the period leading up to writing my first novel and more recently, I have re-visited Morning Pages. I found it no less helpful this time around as I often found myself working through ideas about my new novel. I realised through this stream of consciousness that I needed to challenge myself and not fall back on my standard white, middle-class protagonist. What has emerged is, I hope, a character who is more nuanced and interesting.
I’m going to leave you with the words of composer Ludwig van Beethoven as he grapples with that elusive question of the source of ideas and inspiration.
‘Whence I take my ideas… I cannot say with any degree of certainty; they come to me uninvited, directly, or indirectly. I could almost grasp them in my hands, out in nature’s open, in the woods, during my promenades, in the silence of the night, at earliest dawn. They are roused by moods which in the poet’s case are transmuted into words, and in mine into tones, that sound, roar and storm until at last they take shape for me as notes.‘
Ludwig van Beethoven
If you have ever been interested in writing yourself, I’d urge you to play around with these but also find out what works for you.
Where do your ideas come from, in writing or your own work? What helps them to grow and what stagnates them? I’d love to hear from you!
If you’ve enjoyed this blog post, complement it with Why I still read aloud to my children; the importance of scribbling down ideas & top tips for aspiring writers.
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