• Miles O'Neal

Writing 101 - Where Do You Get Your Ideas from (Teaching by Examples)


Stegosaur at nativity scene, worshiping baby Jesus

One thing almost every writer gets asked- both by readers, by aspiring writers, and by interviewers- is, "Where do you get your ideas from?" Even though it breaks the Writers' Code (which is eerily similar to the Pirates' Code), I am going to share with you where we get them. All I ask in return is that you buy my books. I'd really love for you to read them as well, but if that's too much to ask, buy them and use them as coasters.

  1. Today's Ideas This daily newspaper contains hundreds of fresh, new ideas every day. A subscription gets you a random number N between 1 and 28. On the Nth day of the month, you get your copy of Today's Ideas. This helps assure that only 1/28th of the writers in the world start with the same set of ideas each month. If you don't need ideas one month, you can bank that month's slot and get two the next month. These carry over monthly but not annually. Any extra days beyond 28 in a month, writers hold swap meets (many virtual) to swap ideas. Word on the street is that J. K. Rowling traded away an idea about glittery vampires for one about a boy whose parents were killed by an evil wizard. That worked out well for both authors! The only way to get a subscription is by knowing the secret URL. I've hidden that in code in this blog post. If you figure the code out, do not publish the URL in clear text; that's a quick ticket to being disappeared by the Writers' International Cabal.

  2. Yesterday's ideas Many writers actually read books other than their own. They take notes and re-use ideas (or even entire novels) just by changing names and other minor details. For instance, Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea is clearly a shortened version of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

  3. Tomorrow's ideas Some ideas come from generous authors in the future, both human and space alien. There is some evidence the space aliens are predatory; we're not sure what their motives are. Either way, these ideas get beamed directly into the brains of today's writers. We don't get to choose whether we get these ideas; the future chooses us.

  4. Reality My ideas come from reality. Now my idea of reality might be a bit bigger than some people's ideas of reality. But inside my head, it's real. If it's in a book, a movie, or song, it's real while I'm experiencing it. Or real enough. I have an active imagination. I try to really experience life, not just wander through it like a tourist; this means I notice things. I also free associate a lot. These all play into the creation of yesterday's blog (which posted after this one, thanks to WIX weirdness), which is today's example. Sharon and I have been known to have odd manger scenes. I got a dinosaur at an ornament exchange, but we had no room for it on the several tiny trees we have, so it went into one of the manger scenes, because why not? I put a dragon and a unicorn into the manger scene as well so the stegosaurus wouldn't feel alone. When a friend asked if I had any lawn dragons for Christmas (yes, people really ask me things like this; I have the best friends), I said "No, but I have a dinosaur, a dragon, and a unicorn." That sounded like the start of a joke, and I thought, "A dinosaur, a unicorn, and a dragon walked into a nativity." But the traditional "bar" felt better, so I wrote that, and the rest just followed. Where did the rest come from? I have no idea. I blame reality.

Speaking of reality, I have a confession to make. Items 1 and 3 above are completely made up (I blame reality). If you were looking for the secret message, I apologize. I snicker, but I also apologize. Item 2 should mostly be made up, but unfortunately, some people do steal ideas. Then again, some people accidentally write stories very like others they have never seen. And some manage to retell a story so well that it's legitimately a new story.

So there you have it. I can explain where one idea came from, and some of the thought processes that led to it. But ultimately, my ideas flow out of who I am and my experiences, and my utter fearlessness at exposing (most of) the things that bounce around in my head to the light of day.

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