Finding Ideas

It’s been said that the average person passes hundreds, even thousands of story ideas each day- but the lucky ones see five or six of them. In my opinion that’s one of the most accurate quotes about the craft I’ve ever read.

Most writers, after making it big, will say they are often asked where their ideas come from. Speaking from experience, this can be one of the easiest and hardest questions to  answer. For me ideas can come from absolutely anywhere and I usually get bombarded by them at the most unexpected times. The inspiration for this blog actually stems from one such experience that I had earlier today. I was driving through town and glanced up at a street light and then was hit with an idea for a strange but interesting idea that I can’t wait to start working on.

Oddly enough this very occurrence is actually one of the things that tends to put me behind like nobody’s business- but that’s another story.

One of the things that made me feel the most positive about my yearning for the written word came to me during my sophomore (technically senior) year of college. I was taking a literary criticism class and one of the first pieces of material we had to read was an essay in which the author insisted that without art life would be little more than a monotonous cesspool. He didn’t use quite those words, but that’s how the work made me feel. it made me feel like, as a writer, I was contributing to life in a way that broke the monotony and could even give someone an entirely new reason to get up in the morning. The author went on to discuss how, without art, we are trapped in the day to day life with little or no escape from the things that can become habitual background information.

As an example of this he used the experience of driving to work to symbolize a habitual action. We get in our cars, get on the road, typically take the same route every day and go to work without really considering it. Often, if we really think about it, we’ll find that we barely remember the drive itself or anything about it. The action can become so ingrained in our psyche that we don’t even have to think about what we are doing anymore. Now insert the music, talk show, book on tape or news that you listen to on the way to work (and I know not everyone does this, but for those that do you’ll understand).

After introducing this element to our drive, it not only becomes different and more of an actual changing experience, but there will start to be parts that we remember better. Maybe your favorite song comes on the radio a few miles from your house and it puts you in a good mood, causing you to notice more about your surroundings. This wouldn’t have happened without the music. The same goes with gaining the idea for new works.

As the quote says, countless ideas surround us every single day. Sometimes I’m hit with a few a day, sometimes I’m lucky to get a few a week, but no matter how many I get, they come from out of the blue and are typically completely unexpected. If we take the time to examine the world around us, there is no telling what sort of things we can come up with. The ideas that we get can completely change the way we, as artists, look at the thing that inspired them- and this can be passed to those who enjoy the work as well. If someone paints a snowy field that has one lonely, broken tree in it, it can mean ten different things to ten different people. The same goes for music and literature and so much more. Art is truly the thing that brings life a renewed vigor- if we let it.

As an artist of any type we are told that art imitates life, while others argue that life imitates art and everything in between. Regardless of which opinion you think is correct, one thing that can’t be denied by most is that inspiration absolutely comes from life. It can be something as simple as hearing a footstep in a dark alley or contemplating the chemical process that happens each time we breathe in oxygen and release carbon dioxide.

One bit of advice I can definitely give anyone who is seeking the best way to find new ideas is this; keep your head up and your eyes and ears open. Never dismiss anything. The idea for the next international bestseller could slam into your brain from even the most unlikely source. It can come from something we have looked at every single day for years on end before seeing it in a new light, or it can be something we see for the first time five minutes before working on a draft of the idea it inspired. In my opinion, one of the most important things to remember about a new idea is that the source of the idea itself is much less important than what you do with it

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