Where do great ideas for stories and books come from? I know that many non-writers believe there is a book with great story ideas in it, or at least a book that taught great writers how to come up with great story ideas. Or maybe they believe that great writers were just born with a vault of great ideas, like a Rolodex, that they come to whenever they begin a new project.
Many writers probably believe this about their peers as well. Often times as a writer it seems as though all of your peers are effortlessly writing great things and you are stuck at home with nothing to write about. And you start to believe that these writers must have a “good idea” machine back at their house that is just churning out book ideas for them.
You know deep down this isn't the truth, but you believe it nonetheless. I am here to tell you this is absolutely, hand to the heavens, not true. No one has a “good idea” machine, no one is born with thousands of story ideas in their head just waiting to come out. Those great writers sat in front of their computers for days and weeks with nothing to write about just like you. The difference may be that they have learned where good ideas come from and have embraced the way they come.
Good ideas seem to come out of nowhere. You can be in the shower, or on a walk, or looking at your spouse and suddenly there it is: a great idea for a story. An idea that you would have never thought of sitting at your desk trying to squeeze creativity out of your brain. Their source is simply life. You go about your day and you see things. You see people. You see people doing things. Your brain takes all of this information in. It stores it all away in a huge filing cabinet. And then as you let your brain wander it starts to put these things together below the surface, and then BANG! You’ve got an idea.
But an idea isn't a story. This is where the real work as an artist comes in. You have to take that idea and make it into something. You have to take your natural ability to form words mixed with all that you have learned about how to write, throw in a dash of Divine inspiration and a helping portion of blood, sweat, and tears. Then once you have created something great an editor goes over it and shows you everything that was wrong with it, and you refine it and refine it until it is a book that people read and like.
At which point people come up to you and say, “How did you ever come up with the idea for this? I guess that’s why you’re the writer.” And you smile and nod, maybe chuckle a little. But you know this isn't true. It wasn't the great idea you had that makes you a good writer. It wasn't the great idea that people liked about your book, they just think it was because they aren't able to pinpoint the real greatness of what they read. What makes you a good writer is being able to execute a great idea and having the skills and tools and a group of people around you to help turn that idea into something.
Anyone can have a great idea. In fact everyone does. Everyone thinks of great ideas for books, and movies, and inventions, but only a few are able to take their ideas and construct them into something real. That’s what makes you a writer. So the next time you are sitting in your writing space pulling your hair out because you don't have any good ideas, just step away. Go live life and I promise something will come to you.
When do your best ideas come to you? Share it with us in the comments section below.