Monday, August 23, 2010

Mommy, Where Do Ideas Come From?

Recently, I was asked that question all writers just love to hear above all others. Where do you get your ideas? (Yep, that was sarcasm.) And I gave my usual explanation - that ideas come from everything I see and smell and taste and touch. That I am surrounded by ideas and it is just a question of wanting to hear them.

I like to remind people of the opening scenes of Shakespeare in Love when I have this conversation. Young Will is roaming the streets of London, picking up little snippets of dialogue from everyone around him - the guy on his soap box screaming about the vileness of theatres becomes the piece de resistance in Romeo & Juliet with "A pox on both your houses!" Little moments, little fragments of life, sneak their way into your brain and come out in your stories. That, I think, is what is meant by 'write what you know.' Write the authenticity of those little moments.

But the fact of the matter is, even though the Shakespeare in Love anecdote is completely true and I trot it out on a semi-regular basis, there is still a certain degree of bullshit in that answer.

There's a line in the opening of Stephen King's On Writing where he's talking about the joys of being in the company of writers. One of the things he mentions as being the best part is that you know none of them are going to ask you where your ideas come from, because they all already know the answer. We don't know. That's the no-bullshit version.

You want the whole truth and nothing but the truth? I don't have a clue why I'm wired the way I am. If you don't understand where my ideas come from, I am equally puzzled by you and the fact that you don't have a dozen or more book ideas floating around in your head.

I realized, this most recent time, as I was shilling my usual Shakespeare in Love B.S. that the truth was I didn't get ideas. I had them. They had always belonged to me. There is a seemingly endless store of ideas in my subconscious, waiting to get out. I never feel like books come from someplace outside me. It isn't about finding them, it's about unlocking them.

Ideas are the most internal thing imaginable and that, I think, is the inherent fallacy in the question where do you get your ideas? Because there isn't an idea store we go to when we need to stock up. "Getting" ideas isn't about looking under your desk for one that might have slipped down there; it's about finding ways to listen to yourself, that internal voice. (Try calling them the voices in your head and watch the questioner back away slowly.) It always feels like I'm uncovering something that has always been there, always a part of me, even before I knew it existed.

But maybe I'm an anomaly. Where do your ideas come from? Do you get them or have you always had them? Do you have a certain method of unlocking them?

1 comment:


I wish I knew. But I do know I worry when I don't get one for awhile.