Ah yes. Here it is. You never have to wait long for this one, heck you don't even have to wait for an email for this one. You could be eating at a restaurant with your family and have a waitress toss it in your lap. You could be pissing in a public toilet and and have someone standing outside the stall hollering it in at you. I give you the single #1 most asked question of all time, after "So I wrote a story would you read it and tell me what you think," comes:
"So, here's the thing, see, I quite my job to become a writer, but now I've got writer's block. Can you help me? Where do you get your ideas?"
Where Do You Get Your Ideas?
One of the most commonly asked question a writer hears is: "Where do you get your ideas?" This question seems to baffle and mystify people who don't write and people who want to write but don't know where to start. So, today I am going to take a look at this question and it's answer.
Into The Swamp of Death (The Adventures of Quaraun the Insane)
The Dreaded Question
The question "Where do you get your ideas?", is usually followed by an explanation something like this:
"I quit my job to become a full time writer, but this is my first time writing anything. I've never written anything before. I've always wanted to write, but my job was in the way and just never had the time. Now I've quit my job and have lots of time, but zero ideas. I want to write a novel (or article/ short story/ play/ comic book/ graphic novel ... depending on what they want to write) but I can't think of anything to write about. I've spent weeks trying to figure out what I wanted to write, but I guess now I know what writer's block is, because, I just can't come up with a single idea. I've got writer's block really
bad and I just need to get an idea so I can write. You are such a
prolific writer, you write about a wide variety of things. It's like you
can write about almost anything! How do you do it? Where do you get all
these ideas? I really need you to help me on this. Please help me, my bank account is almost dry, I need some ideas. Where do you get yours?"
Every writer has heard this story at one point or another. The more famous they are, or the more accessible they are to their readers, the more often they hear it.
Writers who do book signings get the hear it every other minute, from practically every person who got their book signed. Many writers come to fear dread and loath this oft repeated question. Some just want to strangle the next person that walks up to them for fear they'll ask this all dreaded question. It is a questioned fear most by writers, because no matter how many times you answer it, there are a million and one others out there lining up to ask it.
And so the question no matter how short or lengthy, still remains the same: "Where do you get your ideas?"
What it Means to Be a Writer
Before moving on the answer the direct question ("Where do you get your ideas?"), I would first like to cover, the indirect one. Did you see it? Do you know what it is? Let's go back and read that load of tripe, I mean question, once again:
"I quit my job to become a full
time writer, but this is my first time writing anything.
written anything before.
I've always wanted to write, but my job was in
the way and just never had the time. Now I've quit my job and have lots
of time, but zero ideas.
I want to write a novel
but I can't think of anything to write about. I've spent weeks trying
to figure out what I wanted to write, but I guess now I know what
writer's block is, because, I just can't come up with a single idea.
got writer's block really
bad and I just need to get an idea so I can write. You are such a
prolific writer, you write about a wide variety of things. It's like you
can write about almost anything! How do you do it?
Where do you get all
these ideas? I really need you to help me on this. Please help me, my
bank account is almost dry, I need some ideas. Where do you get yours?"
Did you see it this time? Yeah, that's
right, this guy isn't asking where you get your ideas from. He thinks
that's what he wants to know, but really, getting ideas is not his
problem. This guy needs a reality check. I mean, even if you tell him
where you get your ideas from, what good will it do him? Nothing. Not
one damn thing. Because this guy is clueless. This guy has no idea what a
career in writing even is. If you didn't see what he said wrong, well
keep reading because I'm about to spell it out for ya.
What is the problem here?
The problem is this guy is NOT A WRITER.
Writers write a lot.
Writers write every day.
Ask every writer why they write, and you'll always get a near identical answer:
"I don't know really. It's like I can't not write. It's like if I stop writing I'll die. It's like writing keeps me alive, you know like eating or breathing does. You know how if you stop breathing you die? Or if you stop eating you die? Writing is like that. I feel like if I let a day pass without writing, I won't wake up the next day. I don't know how else to explain it. Sometimes a day will pass when I don't write something down, so I have to punish myself by writing straight through for 24 hours, otherwise I feel like I'll die. My throat tightens up and my heart starts racing. My chest hurts and my head pounds. It's like someone is trying to chop my heart out with an ax while someone else is beating me in the head with a sledge hammer and the only way to make them stop and make the pain go away is for me to start writing. Doesn't matter what I write just as long as I write something. I've got all these people running around inside my head and if I don't write about them, they'll kill me."
Every author, in every interview, always says something along those lines.
ALL OF THEM.
There has NEVER been a writer who DID NOT describe the drive to write as though they had no control over it.
All writers express a feeling of anxiety, panic, fear, and dread if they miss a day without writing.
All writers describe writing as though it was as vital as, if not more so, than the act of breathing.
Writers write a lot.
Writers write every day.
Writers are always complaining that they wish they could stop writing.
Writers are always saying they feel they have no control over the fact that they can't stop writing.
Writers write stories or poems or journal entries all day and all night, never once stopping to think: Is this any good?
Writers are obsessed with writing.
Writers view the act of writing as more vital to their survival than eating, sleeping, or breathing.
Writers do not think about wanting to write.
Writers do not dream about one day writing a novel.
Writers find time to write in between every spare second of the day.
Writers never have trouble with things like jobs or family getting between them and the act of writing.
Writers don't worry about ever getting published or read, all they worry about is finding another sheet of paper so they can write some more.
Writers just write, because writing is what writers do.
Some writers even get published, but not all.
Writers are people who write. Authors are writers who have been published.
Writers never get writer's block, because writer's block isn't real.
Writer's block is a thing which happens when non-writers try to force themselves to write. Non-writers assume that writing is easy and that everyone can do it, therefor they are going to do it too, because they want to be rich and famous, so they try their hand at writing to see if it sticks, and than they can't think of anything to write so think it must be writer's block.
Writers write about everything and can write about anything at the drop of a hat, and are never at a loss for what to write next because they write about absolutely everything that goes on around them.
Psychologists have estimated the as many as 80% of all writers are writers because they have schizophrenia, as writing obsessivly about people no one else can see or hear, at the expense of either eating or sleeping is one of the primary symptoms of schizophrenia. There are a few radical psychologists who have even suggested that writing in and of itself may be a psychological disorder and could be treated with medication to help writers live more meaningful lives (by allowing them to have the option to stop writing for a few hours of the day so that they can do something other than write for a change.)
And then here we have people like the question asker, saying: "Well, I'd like to write. I think I might want to write a novel some day. But I've never written anything before, I have writer's block, I need ideas."
No, you don't have writer's block, you are just not crazy enough to to have writer's syndrome that's all. I'm not joking here. Several psychologists and psychiatrists are now agreeing with the fact that writers are crazy, (suffer a mental illness, usually schizophrenia, which causes them to be unable to stop writing) and that normal sane people who try to write, are simply unable to do so, because they lack the chemical imbalance of the brain, which causes writers to be writers. These people assuming they must have something wrong causing them to not be able to come up with ideas, tell themselves they have writer's block, when in fact they only thing wrong is that they don't have anything wrong at all.
Can you see now, the difference between a writer and a person who wants to write?
For this guy writing is a fantasy where some millionaire, smoking a pipe and wearing a silk jacket, lounges around the house for weeks on end and than miraculously one night he wakes up, screams "I've got it!" and pounds out a best selling novel in a single weekend and than does not write another word for 2 or 3 years, when the next "best seller idea" mysteriously comes to him out of the blue.
No writer lives like this. No writer writes like this. Unfortunately, no non-writer believes that a writer's life is anything different from this.
Writing is work.
Writing is getting up and going to work 5 days a week.
Writing is writing from 9 to 5 every day.
Writing is, well, it's writing.
It's not sitting back and thinking about writing.
It's not wondering what you should write.
It's not running around telling everybody you are going to write a book, am writing a book, want to write a book, should write a book, or any other such fool thing. That's not writing, that's called talking. Or was it called bragging and making a fool of yourself? I forget now.
It's not looking for ideas to write about. It's not. No, that's called research. That's something writers do in addition to writing. Writers spend a lot of time researching.
No, writing is picking up a pen and writing, or sitting at a computer and typing.
Hey! What do you know - writers actually write! Odd isn't? Who would have thought it possible? Ironically, not many people. Most people seem to think all a writer has to do is sit on a toilet and start shitting gold bricks on a page and viola!
Instant shitty first draft! Next they wave their magic plunger overhead and POOF!
Instant edited manuscript!
And forget about the hours, weeks, months spent finding publishers and getting promotions set up, because we have fairy godmothers doing that for us.
We don't have to do any work because we are writers and can goof off all day long, because that's what writers do! YIPPIE!
I want an easy-peasy job like writers got. I wanna be a writer so I can shit gold bricks and goof off all day long too!
PLEAAASE!I am just so sick of people running up and flapping their mouth off about how great and easy it must be to be a writer and not have to do anything all day. And it's bad enough they are so clueless they say that, but than they end it with, "Will, I'm writing a book too, only I can't come up with an idea, could you help me?"
Seriouly? Now not only are you too lazy to get off your ass and write, but I'm supposed to do it for you now? Honey, I may write about ghosts, but I ain't no ghost writer! You want ideas, than you go out there and get them the same place I do, and I'll tell you how I do that, so you can do it to, sure, but I ain't gonna do the work for you.It's YOUR JOB to come up with your own ideas. Because hey, that's what we writers are paid to do - come up with ideas and write them down. Okay?
If you ain't gonna write something, get out of here and go back to your day job, okay? we got enough deadbeat wannabe writers who never write a word lazing around the planet as it is. I am so sick and tired of twiddle-dee-dum dweebs prancing around all stary eyed and sing-songy with "I'm gonna be a writer, it's my turn to shine, la, la, la, la, la, laaaaaa!"
Well, whoop dee do and trall, la, la, if you a going to write, than sit your frigging ass down and start doing it, because the only way to be a writer is to write.
The Secret to Finding Ideas
So, you need ideas do you? You want to
know where I get mine? Okay. Let's do some role playing than. I want to
you pretend you are me. Yep, that's right. The Dungeon Mater has spoken
and you little player must obey, if you want to find the secret to
becoming and endless well spring of ideas flowing down the mountain.
pretend you are a writer. I know it's hard to do, what with all your
writer's block pounding rail road spikes through your brain but hey,
pretend you are a writer anyways, because guess what? Me being, you
know, a writer, like most writers, I don't believe in writer's block.
Any writer worth his salt knows that writer's block is nothing but a
load of hooey that wannabe writers talk about because they'd rather talk
about not writing, than do any work. And if you are going to pretend to
be me, than the first thing that has to go is your wishy-washy "Boo-hoo
pity me I got writer's block" lazy attitude. So kick writer's block in the pants and get rid of it once and for all.
Close your eyes, use your imagination, think, breath, deeply, slowly,
you are drifting off into the world of writers, where you are a world
famous author who has written the top selling book of the year, and your
agent has set up a world tour for you.
You have spent the last several weeks traveling across the country bookstore to bookstore doing book signings and answering mountains of questions.
After 10 book signings where you signs a thousand books each, you have answered the question "Where do you get your ideas?" 10,000 times now while simultaneously tossing 10,000 manuscripts in the recycling bin unopened and unread, because you are a writer who barely has time to write books, let alone read 10,000 armature crap manuscripts that were so rudely tossed in your face the past 10 days.
You are ready to scream, you want to toss a bookshelf on the head of the next person who leaps from foot to foot pissing their pants at the joy of meeting you, their beloved favorite author, while holding up a familiar manila 8x11 envelope and explaining they got writers block and can't finish their manuscript because they need ideas. You agents sends you to a psychiatrist, you come back to your senses and agree to go to the next book signing.
Okay, so here you are at a book store signing books, and this guy is standing in front of you with his sob story about quitting his job to become a writer and now he's starving to death because he needs ideas, and worse he is so inapt at finding ideas, that now he's here in front of you begging you to give him some of yours. How do you answer this guy? You want to help him out, but you know that telling him where to look for ideas is not going to help this guy. So instead of telling him where to get ideas, you decide to say something like this:
Writing Is a Career Not a Hobby
Now every writer is going to see this
differently, but you are pretending to be me, remember? I see writing as
a career, not a hobby. I can't afford to get writer's block or fail to
see an idea, because my life depends on it. Literally. If I don't write,
I don't eat. Writing buys the food. I don't have the baby-faced luxury
of sitting on my ass, twiddling my fingers and thinking "Ho-hum, nothing
to write about today" like you do, because hey, this is my day job.
here you are in front of me, instead of asking for a book signed you
want to know where to get ideas, and are spouting out your pitiful tale
of woe-is-me I have writer's block and there are no ideas anywhere, and
so you wave a hand in my face and say:
"No, you don't understand, I know all that, I know writing is a career. I quit my job to become a full
time writer, after all, but I've got writer's block really bad and I just need to get an idea so I can write. You are such a prolific writer, you write about a wide variety of things. It's like you can write about almost anything! How do you do it? Where do you get all these ideas? I really need you to help me on this."
But I am helping you, and you are too blind to see that, otherwise you would have seen all the ideas I have given you thus far, I've already given you several and you are still asking for more while not yet seeing a single one I've already given you. And that is why I am now saying the problem is not your lack of ideas, but rather your lack of seriousness about writing as a career.
You are looking at writing all wrong. You are sitting back and waiting for ideas to jog up to you and say "Here I am! Write me!"
But that doesn't happen. Writers are very busy active people who are out and about doing all sorts of things all day long, like going to car shows and monster truck rallies, or mountain climbing, walking on nature trails, hiking through national parks, taking photographs of birds and bears, knitting sewing, beach combing, walking dogs, playing drums, flying radio planes, cooking, baking, selling at farmer's markets, building art cars, painting on canvas, cleaning cat poop, planting seeds, harvesting crops, CosPlaying at comic book conventions, watching Star Trek and Dr Who, attending classes at community college, rooting around in museums, reading ancient documents in historical society archives, visiting haunted houses, interviewing alien abductees, visiting ufo hot spots, eating at food trucks, ...you are pretending to be me here remember? Busy, busy, busy, busy. Way too busy to just sit on my ass doing nothing but waiting for ideas to float by me.
And yes, you are right, I am a prolific writer, with endless topics to write about, but did you ever stop and notice the topics I write about? Haunted houses, aliens, ufos, guides to pet care, how to do art/sewing/costuming/gardening, etc, I write cook books, and self-help books, horror stories of hikers lost in deep dark forests.... my list of fiction and non-fiction topics to write about looks an awful lot like that list of things I do every day, doesn't it, now I wonder why that is?
See, I write what I know. I know a lot of things. I don't know everything, but I do make it my business to know everything I can about the things I do know. If I like it, I do it; if I do it, I write about it. I see everything I do as an opportunity to write about a new topic.
Writing is my career, but writing is not the only thing I do. I have a huge life outside of writing. I fill every second of the day with all sorts of busy things to do, places to be, things to see...and every single one of them is a doorway to dozens of things to write about. This is what a writing career is REALLY like.
Ask yourself this:
What does writing mean to you?
Is writing a hobby or a career? How did you answer? A career? You must think it is a career, otherwise why would you quit your other job. Why than are you not treating it like a career? What are your goals? Who are your readers? What do you want to write? What is your work schedule?
You said you quit your day job to write. Okay, so I ask you:
What was your day job?
Did you wait tables? Drive a school bus? Were you a cashier at the local super market? Did you teach high-school geography?
Whatever it is that you did for your day job, ask yourself this: How many days did you work each week?
A few well say three, some well say four, almost all of you well say five. No one says seven. By law your employer is required to give you at least two days off each week. That is a law. An anti-slave labor law. It's a national law. All 50 states have it. That law is enforced. If an employer asks you to work more than five days a week, they are required to pay you a minimum of time and a half (overtime) for the 6th and 7th days of the week. That too is a law.
Because even the government knows that you can't get the job done if you are not given a day or two of rest. If you work seven days a week, you well run down, wear out and get sloppy. You begin to suffer burn out and your work well suffer, because you didn't get a day off. But you did work a certain amount of days right? You had to be at work at certain times? You had certain things you had to do at certain times? You had a schedule. You had errands. You had assignments. You had deadlines.
How many times have you changed jobs in your life time? Did you ever have a job where you did not have to be at a certain place at a certain time and had to do certain things otherwise you did not get paid?
So you quit your job to become a writer.
Well than why are you not treating your writing career like a real job?
Why haven't you set your schedules yet?
Why do you not give yourself assignments?
What do you do during your lunch break - wait, what do you mean you didn't think to give yourself a lunch break?
Damn-it man! Don't you know writing is a business?! You are no longer working for someone else! Just because you work at home doesn't mean you can lay around doing nothing all day! You have a business to run, tax forms to fill out, expenses to pay, mouths to feed, deadlines to meet. You have work to do buster! Why are you lazing around trying to find ideas instead getting your butt to work?
So, we come back to your answer: Why do you write? Hobby or career?
If you said career, than you know that being a writer is just like every other 9 to 5 job.
Nine o clock you sit down at your desk and you start writing. Around noon you take an hour break for lunch. After lunch it is back to your desk to write until five. Five o clock comes around and no matter how compelled you are to keep writing, you put down your pen, turn off the light and do not go back to your desk again until tomorrow morning when nine o clock rolls around again. Like any other job, you take the weekend off.
Why? Because for you writing is more than a hobby.
For you writing is what puts food on the table. For you writing is what puts clothes on your children. Writing just paid for your teenager's PS3. Writing pays the $5 a gallon gas you have to put in your car. Writing pays the mortgage. Writing pays the vet bills caused by the recent pet-food recall. Writing will pay to send your kids to college.
The Oak Tree (EelKat's Twisted Tales)
You write because writing is your career, your job, your livelihood. For you writing is not a hobby. You can't afford to let you writing get sloppy and you know that. Which is why you also know that it is foolish for you or any other writer to think that it is in your best interest to write every day.
To be the best writer you can be, write often, write frequently. The more you write, the better you will become, but remember: take a break, get some rest, take a vacation. And whatever you do, give yourself the weekends off. Do not write every day. You'll be a better writer for it.
I have continued writing more on this subject of being a writer, and that you will find on the page linked here: How To Become a Better Writer For this page however our goal is not to review what it means to be a writer in depth, but rather to look at where said writer gets his ideas from, so moving on . . .
The guy looks at you blankly and explains he knows all this., but that what he needs to know right now is where to get ideas.
Yes. You nod. Ideas. I'm coming to that. While all writers are different, they all share one common goal: to become a better writer. For many, becoming a better writer is a goal which they feel is out of their reach because they just can not find ideas to write.
you want to know how to find ideas? Well than, I ask you again:
Why haven't you set your schedules yet?
Why do you not give yourself assignments?
Now don't laugh. This really is going to help you to find ideas.
Set a Schedule
Set a schedule. Give yourself deadlines. Create a calendar. Tell yourself that you have until such-and-such a date to get the job done. The job could be anything. Here's a few jobs you could set for yourself:
Write down something to the effect of: "I will write 1,000 words this weekend" or "I will finish chapter 3 before August 13."
Having deadlines like this works wonders, because your brain really starts working overtime to beat the clock. Your brain wants you to succeed and will start focusing on getting the job done.
But how does this help you get ideas? Well, let's find out.
When you set deadlines and schedule dates for your writing goals, other things start happening, things I like to call: giving yourself assignments.
Give Yourself Assignments
Here's where the ideas start coming in.
Now let's say you scheduled for yourself a new goal and deadline which states:
"I want to write about a haunted house, and I want to publish it in time
for Halloween. I will come up with an idea for a short story involving a
haunted house before February 1st, and I will write it before March
31st, so that I will have time to get it published in ______ magazine's
October Issue which comes out in September."
Now you must give yourself assignments in order to reach that goal. What
assignments would you give yourself? Not sure? Can't think of any?
Well, this is a common goal I give myself, seeing how writing short
stories set in haunted houses are a particular passion of mine, so I'll
share with you the assignments I would give myself for such a goal. They
include the following:
Day #1: Read Edgar Allan Poe's Fall of
the House of Usher again. Drive out to local abandoned hospital and take
pictures. Watch House of Usher DVD staring Vincent Price.
Day #2: Head to Old Orchard Beach, down by the gulley to watch coast guard dredge for bodies,
again. Make notes of changes in shore line since last hurricane. Watch
Ju-On on DVD. (And Never go to bed because I next decided to watch the
entire Ju-On/Grudge series, because once I start watching 1 DVD in the
series I just have to watch them all.)
Visit local historical society and get more information on local
haunted/abandoned hospital. In need of some less scary ghost stories
after GrudgeFeast, watch Disney's Haunted Mansion, which for some reason
reminds me of Rocky Horror Picture Show so I watch that too.
Go to library, order books on real haunted houses. Have an all night
fright feast and watch The Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness (aka
Evil Dead 3), and Evil Dead (aka Evil Dead 4) back to back on DVD. Make
note of all the times I saw Sam Rami's car than, go watch SpiderMan DVD
series so I can see more of Sam Rami's car. Remind myself to include
haunted car in story. Go watch Christine DVD.
Walk around neighborhood looking for houses that look haunted, make
notes of what it is that makes them look that way. Find online forum
about ghost encounters, ask questions. Watch Saw, all 7 DVDs back to
back. Make note of the fact that JigSaw is the perfect villain.
Read Edgar Allan Poe's Fall of
the House of Usher again. Drive out to local abandoned hospital and take
more pictures. Watch House on Haunted Hill DVD staring Vincent Price,
and than watch the remake and the remake's remake, than watch Dr. Phibes
and Dr. Phibes Rises Again, followed by how ever many other Vincent
Price movies it takes to stay up all night long, including House of Long
Day #7: Visit
hospital again, take more pictures, watch for ghosts, ask neighbors
about happenings in the area of the old place, and suddenly notice that
local abandoned hospital is on Elm St., so scratch all previous plans
for this day, head home and watch Nightmare on Elm St DVDs, all 14 or so
of them, and don't sleep for 3 days straight. Become obsessed with
Robert Englund and watch more of his movies starting with Phantom of the
Opera, 2001 Maniacs, and The Mangler.
And so on, until I've reached my goal. And by this point you suddenly realize that I have a massive collection of just about every horror movie ever made on DVD and I watch them nightly, than spend hours writing furiously after watching them.
you was paying attention than you will have also noticed that I do a
lot of foot work going around to local haunted houses (which here in New
England we have no shortage of), visiting crime scenes, rummaging
through library bookshelves, and visiting a lot of old historical
museums (which are also in abundance here). Remember what I said earlier
about how authors do more researching than they do writing?
is also important to note that whenever I go anywhere I take with me a
lined notebook, a blank drawing pad, pigma (drawing) pens, pencils,
colored pencils, crayons, and a digital recorder. I write down every
thought that crosses my mind, draw every detail that sparks interest,
and record interviews and conversations with people I meet along the
And I make note of everything:
the color of the leaves on the maple trees, the peeling aint on the
porch, the rock in the drive way, the crack in the window, the noisy old
lady peeking out from behind the faded yellow calico curtains of the
cape across the street...
get back home, I pop a horror DVD in the player, turn on my computer,
and start transferring my notes to my filing system on the computer,
while the horror movie plays in the background producing the proper
atmosphere for writing horror.Than I open up yWriter and start typing my
I will point out here
that I never write without a DVD playing while I write. I use it as
"background noise" and for setting the mood. If I'm writing horror, out
come the horror DVDs. If I'm writing sci-fi out come the Star Trek,
X-Files, FireFly, and Dr Who DVDs. If I'm writing vampires, Angel goes
on. When I'm writing children's books, Disney cartoons (especially
DarkWing Duck and DuckTales) are playing. And so on and so forth.
And yet the guy is still staring blankly at me, saying "Yeah, I know, it's great hearing your writing process and all, but ideas, I need ideas..."
Finding the hidden Ideas . . .
Ideas . . . yes, those things that writers are always seeking
suppose the problem our fictional wanna-be writer had was multi fold.
Obviously he did not do his research before he quit his day job and
jumped into a writing career. If he had, he would have known that even
top best selling authors have to have a day job to pay the bills,
because let's face it - writing just does not pay worth shit.
you slave, you are lucky if you ever get paid.
Every one wants to read,
no one wants to pay for it. It's a problem all writers eventually learn
to face. Unfortunately it's also a problem that can get in the way of
finding ideas too.
Well, let's look at our guy again.
quit his job with high hopes of booming in the writing business. He
probably quit his job 6 or 7 months ago. He's been on a roll living the
high life on his bank account, and putting off writing until "the big
idea" hit him.
But now his bank account is running thin and he's starting to worry, because the big idea hasn't presented itself to him yet.
Now he's wondering where that idea went.
He was so sure it would arrive. He had waited expectantly for it to run up his driveway, knock on the door and yell out "Here I am! I'm your best selling idea! Write about and make millions!"
So why didn't it come? Where was that big idea when he needed it? What did he do wrong? Well, let's look at how he spent those 6 months and see if we can't figure it out together, shall we?
Day One - I Quit My Job To Become a Writer!
Friday night our guy storms into his boss's office with the announcement "I'm quitting my job to write a best seller."
the way home he takes his buddies out to celebrate his new career.
their way there they see a high speed police chase.
celebration he heads home and watches X-Files. Tonight's episode has
Mulder chasing vampire pizza boys through a motor home park.
falls asleep and dreams a giant vampire pizza eats New York City.
Did you see them?
Idea #1: a book about a guy who quits his job to write a book
Idea #2: a review for the local newspaper about your favorite place to celebrate
Idea #3: a bunch of buddies go out to celebrate an event and something happens that changes their lives forever
Idea #4: 2 guys see a police chase and get involved in an international conspiracy
Idea #5: a renegade FBI agent hunts down vampires
Idea #6: a giant vampire pizza eats New York City
OMG! How did this guy miss seeing all those story ideas? If he'd opened his eyes and looked at the world, the way a writer looks at the world, he would have seen ideas all around him that night and would have been bursting with stories to write. But, he wasn't looking for ideas, no, he was waiting for an idea to come to him instead.
And those are just the first 6 ideas I saw in there. I can find more. I can find a lot more.
Day Two - Soon I'll Get My Idea
After a fitful night of pizzas terrorizing the city, our guy wakes up wondering when the first big idea will hit him. He decides not to eat the left over pizza, due to lingering memories of last night's nightmare.
He brushes his teeth, and out of the corner of his eye sees a construction truck driving across his lawn and thinks: yellow. One of the construction men working on the street, sounds vaguely like a Viking - though he wonders why he thought that. He bumps his head while making tea, lucky thing he had just come out of the shower and still had his trusty towel on his head.
hhhhhhmmmm. . . . did you see it? The beginning of a best seller? If you missed it, than you don't know Author Dent, the average ordinary guy who's life was turned upside down because he did not think of more than "yellow" or realize just how really lucky he was to be carrying his towel when aliens kidnapped him in Hitchhicker's Guide to the Galaxy. That book became one of the best selling comedies of all time and it started out with a guy looking out the window and seeing construction trucks on his front lawn.
So many ideas, from so many little insignificant ordinary things. Now why didn't our guy think of thee things?
Month Three - Not Even My Neighbors Have Ideas!
Days have turned into months for our guy who is still wandering through
life looking for the big best seller idea. Every day he gets up, gets
the paper off his lawn, waves to the old guy next door and heads back
inside. For three months now he has done this. And yet, he has failed to
notice changed in the front lawn of the old guy next door. Every day
the old guy is out there digging holes. In three months his nice green
lawn has turned into much and mud and piles of dirt. Why?
guy had stopped wondering when his idea would come and looked at his
neighbor's yard, he could have seen the next big idea.
Idea #1: the old guy his killing off his rich girlfriends, living off their pension checks, and burying their bones under his lawn
Idea #2: the old guy found a pirate's treasure map which indicates treasure is buried about where his lawn now sits.
Idea #3: 50 years ago his beloved wife lost her ring in the garden and he's desperately looking for it
someone thinks the old guy buried his wife on the lawn and every night
digs a new hole trying to find proof, and every morning the old guy
puzzles over the new hole as he fills it in
Did you see more? I can see more. I can see a lot more. I can see several ways to turn each of these into horrific horror tales, as well as ways to turn each into romance, and each into sci-fis. From these "4 ideas" I can see another 2 dozen. Can you?
Month Six - Help! There are no ideas ANYWHERE!
Our guy is sitting in the coffee shop.
He's too busy worrying about his next meal and wondering why his big
idea never came, to notice the bank robbery going on across the street,
or to see the crowd of screaming teenagers running after a rock star who
will be giving a concert tonight.
doesn't notice the couple sitting in the booth behind him or overhear
their conversation about their wedding plans. He hasn't noticed that the
waitress is sneaking food out the back door to a homeless woman and her
He doesn't see the
mayor and his mistress sneak behind the counter to hide from the wife.
He does not see any of these people, all of them waiting for a book to
tell the story behind their actions, because he is too busy waiting for
an idea to float past him.
By chance he looks up and sees a crowd at the bookstore, and figures, there must be a famous author there signing books.
So he rushes from his seat, past the fireman rescuing a child of the 10th floor of a burning building, past the boy and his dog playing Frisbee in the park, pass the local haunted house, pass the the theater where Hamlet is playing, pass the biker gang that looks suspiciously a lot like vampires, pass the road side preacher who says a meteor will hit earth at any moment, pass the soldier just returned from war, pass the couple hugging at the train station, pass the Mormon missionaries who want to tell him how Jesus visited the Aztec Indians two thousand years ago, pass the news reporter who is saying a whale just washed up in the bay, pass the man who telling another reporter he was abducted by aliens, pass the girl who can't stop smiling and telling every one how great life is, pass the boy scout team waiting for their campground bus to pick them up, and straight into the book store where he now stands in front you asking: "Where do you get your ideas?"
You look out the store window and you see all those things this guy had to ran past (and ignore) to get to you and you wonder:
Where the hell is his brain? How can he be so stupid? Why didn't he see all those story ideas?
You, the author signing the books, you know without a doubt that this guy is clueless and beyond help. He will never be a writer, because he is incapable of seeing the world through the eyes of a writer.
You saw story ideas in each of these things:
- The bank robbery going on across the street
- The crowd of screaming teenagers running after a rock star who
will be giving a concert tonight
- The couple sitting in the booth
- The conversation about wedding plans
waitress is sneaking food out the back door
- The homeless woman and her
mayor and his mistress sneaking behind the counter to hide from the wife
- The crowd at the bookstore
- A man rushing from his seat
- The fireman rescuing a child of the
10th floor of a burning building
- The boy and his dog playing
Frisbee in the park
- The local haunted house
- The theater
where Hamlet is playing
- The biker gang that looks suspiciously a
lot like vampires
- The road side preacher who says a meteor will
hit earth at any moment
- The soldier just returned from war
- The couple hugging at the train station
- The Mormon missionaries
who want to tell a man how Jesus visited the Aztec Indians two thousand
- The news reporter who is saying a whale just washed up
in the bay
- The man who telling another reporter he was abducted by
- The girl named Polly who can't stop smiling and telling every one how
great life is
- The boy scout team waiting for their campground bus
to pick them up
- The author at the book store signing books
- The man annoying the author by asking: "Where do you get your ideas?
He did not even see any of those things at all, and thus never saw the potential each of these things had to inspire a mirid of stories. Every one of these ideas can be used for each of any of dozens of genres: romance, sci-fi, horror, erotica, mystery, chick lit, young adult, children's chapter books, fantasy, paranormal, small town, slasher, gorn, western, historical, who-done-it, inspirational, conspiracy theory, thriller, adventure, intrigue, gothic horror, gothic romance, coming of age, slice of life vignette, family drama, court room drama, medical fiction, or any of the rest of the countless genres out there. You can take any one of these ideas, and turn that single idea in a dozen or more ideas, simply by changing the genre you apply it to.
I have given you 24 separate ideas on this list, followed by 28 genres, for a grand total of 672 story ideas. I just gave you 672 story ideas free of charge, just in this list, and if you had been paying attention you would see that throughout this article I gave you 100 separate story ideas, plus the 28 genres, for a grand total of 2,800 story ideas.
Writers are observant. A writer will get to the end of this article and will have counted no less than 100 story plots from 100 best sellers peppered throughout this article. (And many will be able to name the titles and authors of the 100 best selling books I referenced throughout this article.) Everyone else will say: "But you only listed 34 ideas!" Hum-uh. And that's why I said I can't help you. You are clueless. You will never be a writer, because writers don't sit around waiting for ideas, writers dig deep and actively look for ideas, which is why writers will be able to not only find all 100 story ideas I purposely planted in this article, but they will even come up with their own ideas besides.
And so, if you have reached the end of this article and find that even after I have handed you no fewer than 2,800 story ideas on a silver platter, you still can't think of a single idea to write about than honey, I really think you need to come up with a more suitable career, because writing just may not be your thing.
So, where do you get your ideas?
The answer is all around you.
No really, that is the answer.
Open your eyes and look around you. Life is happening every where. Life happens a lot. And what do writers write about? Life and things happening. So, stop waiting for the big idea to come to you and know that it already has.
Ideas are all around you every second of every day.
Pick up the newspaper - it's full of ideas.
Walk down your street - it's full of ideas too.
Look at your neighbors, look at their yard, look at their car, look at their house.
Go to the store - look at the sales clerk, look at the customers, look at what they buy, listen to what they say.
Write down conversations.
Make note of the things they wear.
Read books. Watch movies.
Go to the park.
Follow the fire truck and see where it goes.
Eat at a restaurant you've never been to before. Go to the side of town you've never seen before.
Sit on a bench and watch people walk by.
Go to the beach and pay careful attention to the ocean.
Get involved. Get out there. Do something. Be part of something. And take notice of everything that goes on around you. Everything is an idea. EVERYTHING!
You know what? Everything happens for a reason, and if you are a writer, than there is only one answer to that: Everything happens so that you have something to write about. So get off your ass and go find something to write about. You only have to look out your window.