One of the more common questions a writer gets is one that is pretty much impossible to answer.
Where do you get your ideas?
It is impossible for any of us to definitively answer because it is different for everyone. What happened with me was, I was playing in a creek when I was a kid, and I found a stone, beautiful and perfectly smooth, shimmery red and gold. I took it home and put it under my pillow. That night, a tiny red and gold dragon came in through my open window, and whispered to me the idea that would become my first story. He had a British accent.
He still comes, that dragon. We have both gotten older, but still, most nights he whispers ideas into my sleeping ear, and sometimes I write the stories he suggests to me, and sometimes I do not.
If you want to know where writers get their ideas, I'll tell you a secret: it's magic. As I understand it, it is different for every writer. For some, a stork delivers them, others, it's elves. One of my writer friends is getting concerned; he bought a bag of idea seeds from an old gypsy woman and he plants them one by one, where they sprout into manuscripts. He is concerned, he says, because he is almost out of seeds. "That was a really long time ago," he tells me, "and she was pretty old even then. I guess my career as a writer is basically over. I should have taken the 'buy two bags get the third bag free' deal she offered me, but I was young and dumb, and pretty broke too." Poor guy. Makes me glad my dragon doesn't seem to have a limited number of ideas. Though come to think of it, I have never asked; maybe one day he will just stop showing up.
Makes sense right? It has to be dragons, or seeds.
I think the people who ask this seemingly simple question want a simple answer. They think that there might be a way to tap into the idea stream, and then they themselves can have great ideas and write awesome stories, too. My advice to those people is this: do like I did, and find a dragon egg. Otherwise, like anything else, it's work, it's thinking about it, it's observing the world around you and wondering about why things are the way they are, and what would it be like if they weren't. If you don't know any gypsies or wizards or druids or whatever, you're just going to have to come up with your own ideas, folks. Sorry.
Really though, the simple answer, if there is one, is just two words: What if?
was driving home from work one day, and I thought, what if there was a
flaw in the marble of the David? What kind of person, if they knew
about it, would try and break it? What would drive them to that point? That's the idea. That's the What If. The rest was work, framing a story, developing characters, finding motivations, you know the deal. Writing.
That's it. It's not magic, it's not elves or storks. Sorry.
were times writing Antiartists that I felt constrained by reality, by
what I believed would really happen. I wanted better for some of the
characters, a nicer ending for them, but it didn't work. I didn't
believe it, and if I didn't believe there was no way that anyone else
would. There were times that the characters were at real places that I have
never been, real, physical visitable places. I had to look up pictures on the internet,
browse people's vacation photos, and then write around reality, and it kinda sucked. I wanted the thing to look like it did in my head, not be constrained by the bullshit truth. I didn't become a writer to become anchored to reality. I live a good portion of my life lost inside my own imagination, daydreaming and wondering and imagining something different. I live a lot of my life in What If.
There is no magic here. I wish there were, but I can only tell you what I know to be true.
Read a lot, write a lot. Work hard, try to not get discouraged, never quit hoping.
Have a little perspective. There are worms of some kind in the drains of the urinals here in my office building. They spend their entire day in the dark, getting pissed on, getting flushed further down the drain, but still, every day a couple of them manage to crawl out of the drain and spend a few glorious minutes out in the light and gleaming white porcelain. Then, of course, they get pissed on again and flushed down the drain, but for a few minutes they get to live in the light.
Take a moment today for gratitude. Say to yourself, at least I'm not a urinal worm.
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Not just in theory, but with your real, actual money.