A common question often asked of writers is some form of where they get their ideas. And I suppose it makes sense. When you read a book you find mind-blowingly good, it only seems natural to want to know how the author got their idea and what inspired it. But here’s the thing: as a writer, I’ve often found it tedious and pretty useless to list off where I get my ideas because the real and honest answer is this: everywhere.
Sometimes it’ll be from a line in a book, an imagined alternate ending to a movie, a set of lyrics from a song I really like. It might come to me from an overheard conversation, an imagined history for a person I see on the train, a suggestion from a friend. Sometimes, if I stare out my window long enough, an idea will come to me, if sleep doesn’t first. But what I’m really trying to say is ideas come from everywhere, but particularly from unique experiences, and just knowing where or how someone got their idea might not make it any easier for you to find your own.
If you intend to write a story, I think the better question to ask when it comes to ideas is how you grow an idea as opposed to letting it die a slow and painful death. Ideas can come easily (if you’re really looking) and manifest in the strangest of places, but I think it’s harder to know what to do with them once you have them. So this post is for those who need a bit of direction once you’ve got an idea that you want to see turn into something more.
So where do you start? First, write the idea down. This may seem obvious, but I realize some people might not be so inclined to do this at first. Why? Because once you write it down, it’s often easier to see the imperfections in that idea, which can discourage you from pursuing it further. I know this because I’ve been through this predicament more times than I can count. But it’s important to get the idea on paper. That way, you can expose all of its weak points so you know what you’ll need to fix before writing. And this is ultimately a good thing because it’ll save you from a whole lot of frustration and energy used to cleaning things up later on. Plus, when you write down your ideas, you have the added bonus of, you know, not forgetting them.
Second, I’d say it might be beneficial to change, switch up, and explore your idea. Unless the idea you have is one of those rare ones that comes fully formed and demands to be written right away in the exact way it came. But more likely, it will come to you in bits and pieces, with blurry edges and uncertain concepts. So why not play around with it a little bit? Take it for a test drive. Think up several different versions of the idea and see which one sticks. What would happen if you changed it from a western to a sci-fi? Or combined the genres? How about if you make that minor character who gets killed off in the first chapter the main character? What would happen if you completely scrapped the ending you thought you wanted and did the exact opposite of that? All of this tinkering around with the idea will help it solidify into something stronger and more appealing, so don’t be afraid to test the limits of your idea before you commit to any one direction.
It’s important to make sure that this is an idea you can get excited over repeatedly, so throughout this process, try to set it aside and come back to it multiple times. I like to call this a breathing period, and while it may seem counterproductive, I think putting something aside for a period of time can renew your interest in it. So leave it alone and work on something else. Maybe try developing some other ideas. And when you decide it’s time to get close to the original one again, see how you’d feel about furthering your time with it. Because if you can get excited for something often, then you’re more likely to eventually want to write it. And isn’t that the end goal here?
So you’ve written it down, tinkered with it, put it aside and are still feeling this idea? Congratulations, you’ve made it to the outlining stage! So go create an outline. This, of course, is something that mostly applies to those who like to plan what they’re going to write ahead of time. Of course, if you’re a pantser, I imagine you’d skip this step altogether and want to go straight to the writing part. But if you’re not, definitely try outlining. I’m not going to say how to begin outlining because the ways you can do this are numerous, but find something that works for you and once you’ve done that all that’s left is to write your story.
So how about you? How to you go from idea stage to writing stage? And do you have any other tips for how to sustain a writing idea? Let me know in the comments and as usual, thanks for reading!
Photo found here.