The Art of Obtaining Ideas

Light bulb Outtake


Photo by Kim’n’Cris Knight

The one question I get asked more than anything else is, “Where do you get your ideas?”  I’ve given a lot of different answers depending on my mood and level of annoyance, such as-

I don’t know.  *shrugs*

They just happen.  Kinda like rabies.

The voices in my head are well educated and verbose.

Alien tractor beam.

The truth is, ideas are all around us all the time, you just have to know where to look for them.  However, I do have a couple standard go-to places that I hit up when the brain pan starts going dry.

1. New TV Shows

Yes, yes, I know, this is probably the worst suggestion because it is a gateway drug to procrastination.  But, if used in a responsible way, TV shows can be a wonderful source of idea material for your stuff.  I like to watch an entire series in one go (usually one episode, and then I write for a while, then reward the writing with another episode.  Self bribery at its finest, baby) and I will flag certain episodes to go back and analyze as I watch.  The episodes I flag usually contain plot twists, character development arcs, thematic imagery, etc.  I will return to these episodes and pick them apart, watching how characters express themselves, how plot information is delivered, how scenes are built up, and anything else that pings my radar.  Although it is in a visual format, I find it easier to pick this kind of story apart because I am not focused on the writing structure as well as all of the above.  For the record, I am partial to Supernatural, Teen Wolf, Castle (what could possibly be better than watching a writer solve crime and kick butt while also penning novels?  The answer is NOTHING), The Walking Dead (zombies, yo), and, most recently (as in, I watched all four seasons in, like, ten days recent) Hawaii Five-0.  Lovely character arcs on all of them, plus hot people which never goes amiss.

2.  Music

Okay, confession: I am a music whore.  I’m like a monkey in a jungle-sea of fruit trees, swinging from one branch to another, gathering and dropping tasty morsels I’ve snacked on willy nilly.  I listen to a wide range of music with no favorite genre.  Pandora and 8tracks are my dealers of choice, and through them I have discovered many artists with wonderful songs that evoke strong images in my mind.  When I find a song that speaks to me, I immediately download that sucker and put it on repeat while I work to get the most out of that song while it is still new.  Because I usually have said song on repeat for hours, if not days or weeks, my music collection is made up of playlists dating back to my teenage years and I can identify what version of what story I was working on (and my emotional mood at the time) just by what order the playlist is in.  In short, music is a great source for ideas because it can set the mood for your work, and you can make story sound tracks that keep you in the zone.

3.  Writing Prompts

I know, I know, everyone will throw this out there at sometime or another when asked about ideas, but it is a classic for a reason.  Writing prompts are invaluable, because while they may inspire new material the one thing they are guaranteed to do is to keep you writing.  You don’t get fit enough to run a triathlon or escape enemy compounds by practicing every once in a while “when the mood strikes”.  You do it by practice, practice, practicing.  You have to build up your brain muscles and get them used to working before they will do it consistently.  Writing prompts help because, even if they don’t yield a best seller or exactly what you need for what you’re currently working on, the exercise doesn’t go to waste.  It becomes a building block for your writerly foundation.  You learn something every time you put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.

4.  Get The Fuck Out Of The House

Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to give your brain a rest.  Just like athletes need a cooling down period, so do you.  So go.  Take a walk, take a drive, contemplate engaging in human interaction if you’re feeling really wild.  The change of pace will benefit you in a lot of ways, and maybe you’ll witness something story-worthy.  If not, just enjoy the break and when you go back to your story you will be refreshed.


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