It’s an old cliché that aspiring writers* will often ask established writers where their ideas come from. The equally cliché answer is that their ideas come from all over, which leaves the poor aspiring writer wondering why they are so defective, since they do not appear to have the same wealth of ideas from which to pick and choose. The truth is, they do. Everyone does. It’s a matter of recognizing it, tapping into it, and executing on that idea once you’ve identified it.
I’m being presumptuous here, not being an established writer myself. In the course of attempting to become one, however, I make habit of reading the personal writings of several authors (namely Gaiman, Scalzi, and Lisle) and have also read a number of books concerning the craft. The authors of these books always bring this particular question up, and always express how flabbergasted they are when they hear the question. The barrier between the two is that one party has a wealth of ideas, knows how to access those ideas, and has the skills to hammer the raw material into something that a publisher will buy, while the other doesn’t realize that their deep pool of imagination is right there, waiting to be used. If you’re capable of reading this blog entry, you have an imagination equal to the task of inspiring a work of fiction. “I don’t have any ideas,” is the mantra of those who don’t know how to recognize their ideas for what they are.
Any idle thought can turn into a story. Walking into work today, I saw a tall, thin post with a hole through the top emitting smoke. I can only assume that this post, with its hole, was meant for cigarette butts. But that image can be enough to inspire an idea. Perhaps it was the start of a fire that consumed the building. Perhaps there’s a story about a guy trapped in this fiery building. Maybe this pole is part of a laser security grid, and it just vaporized the last person to try and walk in. Maybe it’s one of several exhaust vents for a fire-breathing dragon that lives beneath the building. Any of these could become a story.
Ideas are everywhere. You just have to let yourself see them. The hard part isn’t coming up with an idea; it’s turning the idea into something other people will want to read. For that, you have to push beyond the paralysis associated with the desire for approval and just write. See where the idea takes you. If it starts off rocky, with turgid prose and flat characters, that’s okay. Keep going. Writing something is better than writing nothing at all.
* “Aspiring writer” is a bit of a misnomer. The second you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), you are a writer. An aspiring writer implies someone who has yet to actually write anything. Aspiring published writer would be more a accurate phrase.