Where do you get your ideas?


No, I promise this isn’t a complaining post about stupid questions people ask writers. But before I get to the meat of the post, I have a couple of ConCarolinas-related announcements. 

1) The Book Launch Party for The Big Bad:An Anthology of Evil will be Friday night at 10:30PM in one of the Programming rooms. Check your program for the exact location. In addition to me, we’ll have my lovely co-editor Emily (PeaFairie) on hand, plus contributors Bobby Nash, James Tuck, Jim Bernheimer, Darin Kennedy, Eden Royce, Nico Serence, Matthew J. Saunders, Jay Requard, S.H. Roddey and more! Come join us for cupcakes, libations and get your copy of The Big Bad autographed by as many people as possible. They’re like Pokemon – gotta catch ’em all!

2) On Saturday night, I will be hosting a Literate Liquors Live! event! This is more official programming, so check your con schedule for details, but we’ll be drinking with some of our favorite writers and talking about what booze goes best with what books. Bring your own designated driver!

Now let’s talk briefly about ideas. Brief because I’m exhausted from working a day job and designing a show this week. Avenue Q opens at Theatre Charlotte tomorrow, and I’ve been in tech all week. Special thanks to Misty and her son for coming out to help me work on the show last weekend. I really appreciate it. 

I’ve found that if you’re short on ideas, it’s because you’re not paying attention. Writers are, at our hearts, observers. We look at the world and ask “What if?” We look at a lump in the bed and think “What if that wasn’t my wife, but an alien that had replaced her?” 

We look at the cat and think “What if my cat suddenly grew opposable thumbs?” 

I’d spend less time with a can opener and my cat would be obese. But I digress. 

It’s not a matter of getting enough ideas, it’s a matter of storing them and retrieving them later. For this, I use a piece of software called Evernote. It syncs with my phone, web and desktop accounts, so I don’t have to be in any specific place to make notes, and I can access notes from anywhere. This lets me keep track of all those awesome ideas I get while driving. I can just make a voice note in my phone, and get it back later when I’m ready to write. 

I do find that an inordinate number of my ideas come while driving or traveling. Maybe that’s because I’m paying more attention to my surroundings when I’m away from home, or maybe I just go awesome places. Who knows? But I do know that I need to take some way to scribble notes and outlines with me, no matter where I am. I’ve written outlines of novels waiting on a tire change, waiting for a dentist or just sitting in the hallway at a con. 

Where are you when inspiration strikes? How do you keep the idea? I won’t be around in the comments too much because I’m designing another show tomorrow (today, I’m writing this Wednesday and posting Thursday through the magics of the interwebs!) and have limited computer access during load-in. But let me know what your favorite note-taking tool is. Do you have a special pen? Are you a tech-head like me? 


14 comments to Where do you get your ideas?

  • sagablessed

    Most of my ideas come from dreams. Literally, my dreams. Others come from everyday things and asking “What if?” Then I will read myths and say,”Nice but how can I twist this?”
    How do I keep them? Pen and paper. I am a bit old school, lol.

  • Ideas come to me in the shower. I think it’s the calming effect of warm water that wakes my imagination up. I keep a notebook by my bed so I can scribble the ideas down as soon as I get out of the bath.

    I use a note app on my phone, too – some of my notes look a little weird when I look back at them later, but it’s better than losing the thought entirely. 🙂

  • Saga, I wish I dreamed. Or, at least, I wish I remembered my dreams. Of course, if that meant I also had-or-remembered my nightmares that would be less cool. Anyway, John, I used to have a really cool, small device that was verbal note taker, thesaurus, dictionary, word finder, and all round wonderful little electronic thingy. I used to record my ideas there and put them in my PC later. Now, because I am writing a series, I get my ideas from the past books, which is way easier than coming up with all new characters, plot, etc for every book.

  • A few of my ideas have come from Tech/Science news articles but most of my ideas tend to come while driving. I leave the house just before 6 am for my hour long drive to work and this seems to be the best time for my creative thinking. For a very brief idea I’ll use a note app on my phone by I eventually put all of my possible book plots and other ideas into one document on Google Drive. There are currently 28 sections in that document, three of which have made it past the conceptualization stage.

  • Most of my ideas come to me just after I go to bed. I’ve had trouble getting to sleep most of my life, and one of the reasons seems to be because my brain kicks into hyper-drive the second I get into bed. This is true for new writing ideas, ways to revise previously written scenes, solutions to problems at work–really, anything that’s been simmering in my subconscious during the day. Like Misty, I keep a notebook by the bed so I can jot down the ideas and then get to sleep. (I’ve tried getting into bed for a “nap” during the day when I’m stuck, but my brain is never fooled by that. I have to be really sleepy and genuinely ready for bed before it perks up and spits out ideas.)

  • Ideas come to me without any predictable pattern. I jot them down on my computer when I can, but it sounds like I should have Evernote on my phone. Very cool. Best of luck with the new show, John. Looking forward to seeing you at CC.

  • I get ideas when I’m bored, especially when I ought to be paying attention to something else (the sermon, the lecturer, etc.) I get ideas when words click together in new ways, so I let myself play with words for the fun of it. For instance Daisy = Marguerite = Pearl. I was thinking about these three words when I got a narrator’s voice in my head saying (I think) “I knew we were in for trouble the day Daisy Pearl changed her name to Marguerite.” I don’t know what the story is yet, but I’ll get there.

    And I play the what if game. Often it’s the “what would make this situation more exciting? Worse? Funnier?” Like, if instead of everyone just wishing the interim pastor would drop dead, what if she actually did? In the middle of the Good Friday service just as she was anointing the last communicant and saying “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return?” Because someone poisoned the sacred ashes. (And now you know what my current WIP is. For the record I like our actual interim pastor a lot.)

  • Hot showers and long walks — that’s where I work out my plot problems. I also carry a notebook in my purse (so, not with me on showers or walks 🙂 ), where I scribble down plot thoughts. Most of the time, writing it down is enough to make me remember it later, when I’m ready to incorporate it into the work in progress…

    Sigh – wish I was going to be at ConCarolinas!

  • sagablessed

    Mindy, me too. 🙁

  • Hm. Will have to ask Mud politely for permission to pop out of the party to attend #2. 😉

    Ideas usually catch me off guard. Sometimes I’m reading, sometimes walking, sometimes working out. Sometimes I’m out with friends or watching TV. Or if it’s an epiphany on my way to the car, I’ll turn to my hubby and say things like, “She had a bad experience talking to ghosts while at a party as a teen! That’s why she doesn’t like drugs!” The best most recent one was a totally new shiny for a far-future science fiction that I have let myself brainstorm out for an hour or so just to get it out of my head until I have time for it. We were at a pub in Seattle and I heard someone explain the plot of some movie, and this one line, “After X happens, Y happens.” And I stopped drinking to write that down. And could not stop writing for half an hour. My appetizer went cold.

  • Razziecat

    First, sad that I can’t make the con. It was on my “list of things to do” but got pushed off by “house and yard that need many things fixed/attended to.” 🙁 Hope everyone has a great time though!

    Ideas: I play the “what if” game, too. Some ideas come to me while dozing on the bus or the train, in that weird sort of twilight state that’s more than daydreaming but less than true sleep. Sometimes I look at something online, on TV, in a book or in real life and it hits me that “that would make a great story…” I scribble notes at work and tuck them into my purse, or if I’m at home I add them to a document in my laptop. Walking is good for working on story ideas, too. Fewer distractions than home, where there always seems to be a TV on or the neighbors are discovering a new way to make incredible amounts of noise 🙁

  • quillet

    I get ideas in the shower, or while driving or doing dishes or laundry or vacuuming. Often, it’s during those automatic tasks that my imagination goes wandering. And even though I have note-taking apps on my phone and computer, I prefer to jot stuff down old-school. With black ink. It’s gotta be black, not blue. 😉

  • Tech geek here. I can’t think of the last time I didn’t have my phone or tablet with me – or both – or was near a computer. And so, of course, I get ideas while driving. And no, I don’t text and drive. For the moving car ideas I use an old tried and true – I turn the thought into a repeatable mantra until I can write it down. I get some odd looks, mornings as I’m passing security and mumbling under my breath. 🙂
    I’m also one of those who struggles to fall asleep. I don’t get ideas during the hour or so I patiently wait for the sandman to visit; I use them to come up with stories to go around those cool ideas. Sometimes it works, and I get a story – which means getting up to capture it. Sometimes I fall asleep. It’s a win-win for me!
    I play what-if, and observe those around me. I love it when I catch a few words or a comment totally out of context – those tantalizing ones where you wished you knew what they were talking about… and then, of course, I have to create a dialog that fits. Reading is another wonderful source. A walk-on character in a book says something that makes me think of something else and it’s on! A bad book makes me think, this would be better if … and off I go. The news is another one. They talk about politics, and religions, and crimes, and cute puppies, and scandal and and and ! [rubbing hands].
    I’m still trying to figure out if I can make CC. I’d have to make the 7 hour drive Friday night after work. Still debating, so don’t count me out just yet.

  • Oh! And I forgot Sam’s. The ideas are right there next to the commas and ellipses. 😀