For the record, no one has ever asked me, “Where do you get your ideas?” I’m probably just not that famous (yet). But in the interest of keeping ahead of the curve, I’m going to tell you right now where I (and all of the other writers) get my ideas: The same place you do.
Very often an idea will come to me through a misspoken sentence, you know, when you mean to say one thing and something not quite right comes out. Then I think, “How neat. I can use that,” and I write it down in one of my little notebooks. (Not the one that’s been through the laundry. That one’s done. But one of the others.)
There’s no difference between where writers get their ideas and where everyone else does. It’s not like there’s a writer gene that you either have or you don’t, and if you don’t you can’t come up with ideas. The difference lies in what you do with those ideas. As I said, I write them down. And I think about them. If someone at Thanksgiving were to say, “Gee, Bob said he knew how to carve a turkey, but he doesn’t,” and someone else replied, “Yeah, he’s doing such a bad job I keep expecting the turkey to grab the knife and say, ‘Here’s how it’s done, jerk!’ and there goes Bob,” most people would chuckle and make a note about how Bob shouldn’t be allowed near the bird next year.
I, on the other hand, who ask myself, “What would happen then? Would the cops arrest the turkey for manslaughter? Would it be a case of self-defense?” And so on. The difference between writers and non-writers isn’t that we get these ideas, it’s that we use them.
Not all art is created the same way. It’s well-known that sculptors don’t create anything new; they chip away at a block of stone until they reveal the statue inside. They’re kind of like policemen that way, because they pull back layers of obscuring material to get to the truth. Writers, on the other hand, are like children, because we play with Legos. If you want to build a Lego Millennium Falcon, you start with one block. You add another, then another, and eventually you have the Millennium Falcon (if you’re good enough with Legos.) That’s what writing a story is like. You start with an idea, you add another that seems to fit, and you keep adding. Sometimes the pieces you add don’t look right, so you take them away and add different ones. It doesn’t matter how long it takes or how many wrong turns you take, because nobody’s going to see it until you’re done anyway.
And that brings me to my oft-repeated belief that anyone can be a writer. If you have at least an adequate command of the language, you can build a story. It might take ten years, it might require fourteen revisions, but so what? Nobody’s going to say you’re doing it wrong.
But they might just ask you where you got your idea.
Read Full Post »