In my experience, there are two kinds of writers: writers who have too many ideas and writers who don’t have enough.
I am the second kind of writer, and for years I used it as one of my excuses not to write. As such, the question ‘how do you get ideas?’ holds special importance to me.
Thus, I did some research. I looked at the websites of a handful of famous authors to conduct an informal study. Here are my results:
- Stephen King, author of, you know, all the horror books in the world:
“I get my ideas from everywhere”
- Meg Cabot: #1 New York Times bestselling author of, among many others, The Princess Diaries:
“Ideas come from everywhere”
- Marie Lu, #1 New York Times bestselling YA author:
“Most of my ideas emerge from something I read, saw, heard, or experienced—sometimes it’s just a little fragment, sometimes a whole plot idea”
Hmm…something you read, saw, heard or experienced…so basically everywhere?
Real helpful famous authors. Real helpful.
Then it occurred to me. Although I never feel I have enough ideas, in the past eighteen months I’ve written drafts of three novels and dozens of short stories. Clearly I have some ideas. So what changed? Here is the result of my self reflection:
- I gave myself permission to suck. Throughout always I struggle with perfectionism. Once I slowed down my internal critic, ideas lived long enough to become stories.
- I separated myself from my writing. This is connected to number one. Once I made the differentiation between my writing and myself, it was easier to give myself permission to suck.
- I became more deliberate about the media I consume. Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoy binge watching the same six shows on repeat. However, I try to mix it up with reading the type of stories and books I hope to write. While it’s never OK to plagiarize, consuming the type of media I hope to create helps me understand where the proverbial bar is set.
Ultimately, though, I think what helped me the most is this: I practiced. A lot. As far as I can tell, the best way to improve the quality of your ideas is to come up with ideas.