Ask any number of successful authors what the question is that they most frequently get, and at least 99 times out of 100 you’ll get the same answer: where do you get your ideas?
The thought behind this question is a soothing one. The notion that these gifted, talented people have access to some sort of metaphorical tree or fountain full of creative ideas that they visit once in a while for their next bestseller. Or that perhaps there’s something specific they do, some sort of ritual you can copy in order to be just as creative and successful as they are.
Unfortunately, that’s not quite how it works. You can trust us because we’ve tried a lot of rituals. Even exercise, once. But the more we read about the creative process of some of our favorite creators, the more we realize that it’s not about where you get your ideas. That’s not the most important part of the idea process at all.
The Wisdom of Neil Gaiman
As the massively popular award-winning author of novels, graphic novels, comic books and films, Neil Gaiman is someone you can trust when it comes to the idea of inspiration, and this is what he has to say:
“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.”
Stephen King Agrees
If you’re inclined to want more than one talented superstar author’s opinion on the subject of creative ideas, then you’re in luck. In his part-memoir, part-instructional book On Writing, Stephen King basically informs us that there’s no grand central station for ideas where bestsellers are just waiting to be snapped up. Our job isn’t to find ideas, but to realize it when they’ve shown up.
Learning to Listen to Your Mind
During our waking hours, we are constantly thinking. Constantly observing and analyzing. Most of these thoughts drift away into the ether, filed as unimportant, or even absurd. But for creative people, that’s a mistake.
Start by tuning in when you’re thinking. When you’re sitting on a park bench watching the world go by, listen to your mind. Then start asking yourself as many what if questions as possible. What if the picture on the front page of the newspaper started talking to you? What if monkeys and humans traded places? Listen to the answers. Listen to yourself think. You never know where your next great creative ideas are coming from.