Friday, September 14

How Do Writers Get Their Ideas? Neil Gaiman, Seth Godin & Stephen King

How Do Writers Get Their Ideas? Neil Gaiman, Seth Godin & Stephen King

Have you ever woken up with a question on your mind? This morning I woke up wondering: How do writers get their ideas?

So I Googled it. (This amuses me endlessly. Did I mediate on the quesiton or ask friends? No. I Googled. Nothing wrong with that, but it is incredible the extent to which a technology--the internet & Google--has changed my life over the course of a decade.)

Here's what Seth Godin has to say:
- Ideas occur when dissimilar universes collide
- Ideas often strive to meet expectations. If people expect them to appear, they do
- Ideas come out of the corner of the eye, or in the shower, when we're not trying
To read the rest of Seth's ruminations, click here: Where do ideas come from?

My ideas seem to hide in the shower, ready to pounce the moment I've gotten my hands wet and there's no paper in sight. But that's okay. I love their mischievousness.

Here's how Neil Gaiman answered the question for a group of 7-year-olds:
You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we're doing it.

You get ideas when you ask yourself simple questions. The most important of the questions is just, What if...?

(What if you woke up with wings? What if your sister turned into a mouse? What if you all found out that your teacher was planning to eat one of you at the end of term - but you didn't know who?)

Another important question is, If only...

(If only real life was like it is in Hollywood musicals. If only I could shrink myself small as a button. If only a ghost would do my homework.)

And then there are the others: I wonder... ('I wonder what she does when she's alone...') and If This Goes On... ('If this goes on telephones are going to start talking to each other, and cut out the middleman...') and Wouldn't it be interesting if... ('Wouldn't it be interesting if the world used to be ruled by cats?')...

Those questions, and others like them, and the questions they, in their turn, pose ('Well, if cats used to rule the world, why don't they any more? And how do they feel about that?') are one of the places ideas come from.

An idea doesn't have to be a plot notion, just a place to begin creating. Plots often generate themselves when one begins to ask oneself questions about whatever the starting point is.

Sometimes an idea is a person ('There's a boy who wants to know about magic'). Sometimes it's a place ('There's a castle at the end of time, which is the only place there is...'). Sometimes it's an image ('A woman, sifting in a dark room filled with empty faces.')

Often ideas come from two things coming together that haven't come together before. ('If a person bitten by a werewolf turns into a wolf what would happen if a goldfish was bitten by a werewolf? What would happen if a chair was bitten by a werewolf?')

All fiction is a process of imagining: whatever you write, in whatever genre or medium, your task is to make things up convincingly and interestingly and new.

And when you've an idea - which is, after all, merely something to hold on to as you begin - what then?

Well, then you write. You put one word after another until it's finished - whatever it is.

Sometimes it won't work, or not in the way you first imagined. Sometimes it doesn't work at all. Sometimes you throw it out and start again.
Neil Gaiman: Where do you get your ideas?

I'll close with a quotation from Stephen King:
I get my ideas from everywhere. But what all of my ideas boil down to is seeing maybe one thing, but in a lot of cases it's seeing two things and having them come together in some new and interesting way, and then adding the question 'What if?' 'What if' is always the key question. ( FAQ)
That nicely brings together what Seth Godin and Neil Gaiman had to say! I love it when things work out. :-)

Other articles you might like:
- The Role Of The Unconscious In Writing
- Writing Resources
- Harper Voyager Open To Unagented Submissions For 2 Weeks

Photo credit: technicolor76


  1. This is a great post. It's hard to pin where your ideas come from. Sometimes they form from an experience, a moment; other times they just arrive in your mind. What do you write?

    1. Thanks FC! I've experienced that too, the feeling of an idea just passing through me and then settling in, as though it had been floating along and chosen me to nest in. As for what I write, I have several pen names but mostly write urban fantasy. What do you write?


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