How Do You Get Ideas?

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.

How did Husbeast get the idea of turning the sky purple in this picture? I don’t know, but it looks cool. Image description: Purple sky with the silhouette of two trees.

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:

  1. Stephen King, author of, you know, all the horror books in the world:
    “I get my ideas from everywhere”
  2. Meg Cabot: #1 New York Times bestselling author of, among many others, The Princess Diaries:
    “Ideas come from everywhere”
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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