A Writer Cannot Live in a Vacuum - Where do I get my Ideas?
I make them up out of my head – Neil Gaiman
Don’t get me wrong … I love Neil Gaiman, but every so often this little line comes into my memory and I grimace. This advice seems clever, and he isn’t wrong, but he’s not being entirely honest. The fact of the matter is, the writer gets their ideas from our world. Gaiman is right – I don’t pick up a newspaper and think “I’m going to write about El niño today”, but when inspiration does strike you can rest assured that the story about El Niño, and the documentary about octopi, and the conversation with my small folk about why there is loads of rubbish in the woods by the house, are all going to feature in what comes out.
Because writing ultimately is a science formula:
Inputs + form = Written projects
It is the writer’s job to find the best form and frame for the story and to hone it and make it the purest presentation possible.
So yes. The ideas come from your head and you make them up. But the way your brain thinks up ideas is by living – going to the coffee shop, breaking a heart, being heartbroken, living alone, living with people, having kids, losing a child at the zoo, eating so much you’re sick. And listening. So much listening, and watching. Feeling and responding to everything you come across in the world. The old adage of everything being fodder for a writer is true.
And once you have all these experiences your brain has the raw materials required for creation. So whilst you’re living; take workshops, imitate your favourite writers, keep copious amounts of notebooks, write down dreams, review your favourite tv show. It is through these acts of honing your skill that when you’ve got your life experience, and you live your life with a writer’s eye (always on the look lookout for what is interesting and unusual) that you’ll also have the ability to share it as a story that reaches people.