Where Do Writing Ideas Come From?

Scfiasco_bunny_bunnies_745196_hLike Oprah, here are three things I know for sure:

1.  Energy breeds energy

2.  The more you write, the easier it gets.

3.  Ideas generate ideas

About that last truism, I have this theory that ideas actually breed like rabbits.  If you note ideas in your journal, or corral them in an idea book, they find each other, mate, and multiply.  One idea sires a whole new generation of them.  And before you know it, you're overwhelmed with ideas.  Then the lovely problem you have is how to not fall prey to bright shiny object syndrome. ("I think I'm going to write this short story instead of the novel I'm working on.  No wait, I want to start working on that mystery.  Oh no, I've got it, I'll write my memoir.")

Try it.  Make an effort to write down ideas and see if they don't multiply.  It is quite magical, actually.

But, you may ask, where do ideas come from in the first place?  Good question, because writers and creative types need a constant stream of them.  Without fresh ideas and energy for your work, you'll eventually stagnate and quit creating.  So ideas are the lifeblood of our creative practice.  How to get them?  Where do they come from?

In my mind, ideas flow from:

1. Observation

Never underestimate the power of observation.  Simply writing down something you saw (A man walking down the street wearing red shoes) can spark an idea  One of the best ways to begin cultivating ideas is just to write stuff down.  Doesn't have to be original or unique, you simply need to make a note of it.  Because when you write down several observations, the rabbit breeding thing happens, and before you know it you simple little observations have combined into full-blown ideas.  Voila!

2. Speculation

The other wonderful thing that observation sparks is speculation.  (Why is that man wearing red shoes?   Doesn't he realize they are ugly?)  You can actually force ideas using speculation.  And, the thing is, at first when you're working on cultivating ideas, the process feels a bit forced.  But soon the ideas are coming so quickly that you realize they were there all the time, waiting for you to start noticing them.

I'm thinking a lot about ideas these days because I'm going to be teaching an online class about them in December.  Actually, ideas are half the class.  The other half is about taking those ideas and making them tangible through goal-setting.  It's going to be held on two successive Tuesdays in December and you can access the class by phone from wherever you happen to find yourself.  I'm teaching it in December for a couple reasons.  The first is because I always find the dark days of December to be an intensely creative time for me and the second because holding it then will set you up for massive productivity around your writing in the new year.

So check out the class here.  (I'm also teaching a class called Make Money Writing in January.  And I'm offering a special discount for people who sign up for both.  Check that class out here.)  I'm keeping the cost of both of these classes low, because I know a lot of people want and need this information.

And tell me: how do you cultivate ideas for writing?  Do you have any tips for keeping the flow of them coming?

Photo by SC Fiasco, via Everystockphoto.

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10 Responses to Where Do Writing Ideas Come From?

  1. Sue Mitchell 10/24/2011 at 13:28 #

    Charlotte, we were just discussing on my Facebook page what to do with all those collected ideas, so your post is very timely for me. I completely agree that ideas, once honored by recording them, breed like rabbits.

    My most reliable way of inspiring a flood of ideas is to go for a long walk by myself. When I come home, I need to spend 15 minutes with my idea journal downloading everything.

  2. Charlotte Dixon 10/24/2011 at 15:26 #

    Sue, An idea book is key! And thanks for sharing about your walk. I do the same thing, and sometimes end up pulling out my phone and making notes as I walk. I need to remember pen and note cards…

  3. glori jarvi 10/24/2011 at 18:09 #

    OMGoddess! #2-the more you write, the easier it gets. Having struggled with my first project, the Moon Soul workbook, I ironed out some of the glitches that I face with allowing the flow, the “easier” part. Though this project lies unfinished, maybe I am finished with it and it was simply the “practice” project I needed to find my ease. I have found that it is necessary for me to be writing from my soul for “ease” to happen. Thanks, again and again and again for your valuable insight and your support. Glori

  4. Charlotte Dixon 10/24/2011 at 18:11 #

    Glori, You make a good point, that authenticity is key to flow and ease. And the more you write, the easier it is to tap that authentic part of ourselves. You’re on your way now!

  5. Jessica Baverstock 10/25/2011 at 01:31 #

    Number 1 is so true!

    I remember a year or two ago I read somewhere that writers should be very observant of the world around them (even closing their eyes and trying to recreate their environment in their mind from memory). At that point I realised I really wasn’t very observant of my surroundings.

    I’ve been working at it ever since and these past couple of months I’ve really noticed a difference. Now, when I’m walking along the street, I’m continually pointing out things about passers-by that my husband or friends never even saw.

    I’m so pleased I’ve developed this skill, as it’s really going to help with my next novel and blog. :)

    So, long story short, you’re absolutely right – never underestimate the power of observation.

  6. Charlotte Dixon 10/25/2011 at 07:22 #

    Jessica, I love the idea of closing my eyes and attempting to recreate what I’ve seen in my mind from memory. That is a great exercise to increase the powers of observation. Another good thing to do is go out for a walk and come home and write down things you saw. Too often, it makes me realize that I wasn’t paying attention as well as I thought!

  7. Boonies Chick 10/25/2011 at 12:04 #

    Absolutely adored the picture of the rabbits that you chose to go with this post! And, I agree, ideas do multiply like rabbits once you start having them. I’ve got various places to write all mine down and I have so many I couldn’t possibly use them all in this lifetime. As you say, a very good problem to have (as long as you can exercise some control over it).

    The idea for my first screenplay came when I looked at the cover of a book about trains. Suddenly a whole story was coming to me out of nowhere. I love when that happens, because that’s when my stories feel the most natural to write. But I also agree with your point about speculation. A few well-placed questions can open up so much, even when you think you already have a well-developed story.

    Thanks for a great read on this post. Have fun with your new class :~)

    ~ Milli

  8. Charlotte Dixon 10/25/2011 at 15:03 #

    Milli, I’m glad you liked the photo! Love the story about how your idea for the screenplay came to you. The muse is so mysterious! Mostly because of how little we understand our subconscious mind. And you make a really good point, that even when you think you’ve got your story all developed, another idea can sometimes break open new avenues.

  9. Nicole Rushin 10/25/2011 at 17:40 #

    I get ideas from life, from conversations I have had or even overheard. I get them from photography or poetry or great art. I even get ideas from mis-hearing lyrics to a song or sometimes hearing them correctly. Commenting on good threads online sometimes spurs ideas for me also. When I feel like I am fresh out of ideas I try to remind myself to get out and do some living.

  10. Charlotte Dixon 10/25/2011 at 18:02 #

    Nicole, Love that–you remind yourself to go out and do some living. Yes, we writers do get a bit wedded to staying inside at our computers! And thanks for the reminder about art and poetry, both good inspirations for ideas.

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