The most common question asked of a writer is, “Where do you get your ideas?”
There is no straight answer to this question. There is no formula to solve the equation. There’s no spell to make it clearer. Yet everyone keeps asking. What are we supposed to say?
Every writer gets his or her ideas from different places. Some ideas spark from reading; some, by scrolling through social media news feeds. Some ideas spring up in that eerie place between awake and asleep, or while running errands, or in the middle of a lukewarm shower.
But overall, ideas just come. Almost like magic. One minute they’re nonexistent; the next, we can’t get them out of our heads. The next step isn’t quite as magical. It involves taking that spontaneous ignition of a thought and turning it into a live, tangible product.
When we say “product,” we’re still talking about writing. Your idea is your baby, from the very early stages of development until you’re ready to send it off into the world. At that point, though, it does become a product: something you want to share with a specific audience, maybe even something you can sell.
It takes a little work to get that far, though. Here are the steps you can take to make it there.
Step 1: Write About the Idea
The second you get a new idea, it’s tempting to open a blank document and start writing immediately. This is actually the worst possible way you can handle a fresh thought: dissecting it too soon can destroy it before it ever has a chance to grow up.
Take the time to sit down and write about your idea. Journals are a great outlet for this. Give yourself a chance to see your idea, which has up to this point been trapped inside your head, on paper. Start outlining or jotting down random quotes or details, if you want. But hold off on actually starting the new project. See Step 2 to find out why.
Step 2: Let the Idea Sit
Before you start writing the actual piece you have in mind, and after you’ve gotten at least a few thoughts on the topic on paper, walk away. Give your brain more time than you think it needs to put the pieces together.
This might drive you into a state of literary madness. That idea is all you’ll think about for days. Maybe even weeks, if days pass and you don’t feel ready to jump in yet. But we promise: when you do finally sit down to start working, that idea will have grown a little, and matured a lot. It will be much easier, after giving it time to develop, to get it out onto an actual page.
Step 3: Trust Your Gut (and Your Idea)
The best thing you can do at this point is run with it. Trust yourself. If you’re writing, and you start thinking no one else will understand your point—shake it off and keep writing. At this point, no one else’s opinion matters. It’s you and your idea, starting out at a slow walk, then picking up the pace, until you’re sprinting toward the finish line so fast you can’t keep up with your idea anymore: it’s free. It’s ready to fly.
This step requires a lot of faith in your idea and in yourself. Over time, ideas do become their own substance, and at times you’ll feel like it knows where it’s going better than you do. This is a good thing. It means you’ve nurtured that idea, given it the attention it needs, and have raised it to know where it needs to go.
Trust that it will. Trust that it won’t let you down.
The origins of our ideas are difficult to define, and even more difficult to explain to others. Once we take that limp fragment of a fleeting thought and mold it into something others can appreciate and enjoy, it won’t matter so much where it came from.
They’ll still ask, of course. Just tell them you’re actually from Hogwarts and they’ll either nod in approval or walk away confused.
Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.