A hands-on answer to where ideas come from

The magic of books
Copyright: olgaaltunina / 123RF Stock Photo

Writers often get the question where their ideas come from, and the answers are often myriad–and vague. That’s typically not because we want to be deliberately mysterious, but because it is a kind of mysterious process. We might say we read or saw something that sparked an idea, but just how did it happen? Well, it’s often hard to describe. So there are many answers to this question, all valid, but I thought I’d try a different approach in answering it today–a practical one! Gulp, what does that mean? Well, it means you get to try it for yourself! Follow these steps for a hands-on demonstration of getting ideas. First, close your eyes. (After you’ve read all the instructions! 🙂 Don’t worry, they’re very brief.) Now, imagine you’re in a dark, infinite space. There’s no wind, no smell, no sense of anything. Soon, the light is going to come on and you’ll see something before you, but for now, you can’t even see the hand before your face. You stretch your arm out ahead of you, though, feeling your way through the darkness until your fingertips brush against something. You can only feel a tiny part of it for now, but you run your fingers over it, noting the texture, the size… And then suddenly the light comes on and, bam, you see it! Chances are, something popped into your mind just while reading the above, but if not, go ahead, give it a try. Close your eyes, imagine the dark, then the sudden light, and an object in focus just in front of you. What is it? It’s an idea. It might not be a very big idea. It’s almost certainly not a full-fledged plan for a book from start to finish. But it’s the kernel. Something that’s interesting in some way. Something you could, if you wanted to, use as a seed for a story. So, what popped up for you? Me, just typing this up, I got a glass ball. Not sure what that means precisely, but that doesn’t matter, it’s enough to spin the idea further. Maybe it’s a magic ball, and it contains the spirit of someone dead… A ghost, looking for vengeance? An evil spirit? Or, it’s a tiny ball, the kind kids play with, and it’s lost, bouncing down the street, with a little girl running after it. She’ll come to a place she’s never been, and there she finds…. a fairy? A strange man? Or maybe she overhears something, something important, and now she has to tell someone, only they spot her, and… You see how it goes? You start with a tiny, tiny seed, and follow and nurture it until you have something interesting. Something you’re dying to write. It doesn’t have to be an object popping up either, it can be a setting, a character, anything. And that’s one way of getting ideas.

2 thoughts on “A hands-on answer to where ideas come from

  • July 16, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    Good post, Sara!

    I have never given much thought to where my ideas come from. Most of the time I’m just glad they keep popping up. But I have noticed that the more you write, the more ideas you get. It’s like the act of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) opens a door to that mysterious place where ideas live. At first it’s a tiny crack, so only a trickle comes through, but the more you write, the wider the crack becomes.

    • July 17, 2014 at 7:31 am

      Yes, good point! It’s probably why it can help just to sit down and write, even on days when you don’t feel very motivated.


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