Where Do Ideas Come From?

I think one of the questions you get asked the most as a writer is; where do you get your ideas from? I always feel a little bit sad when I get asked this, because in my mind I kind of expect everyone to have a head full of ideas and this question reminds me that is not always the case. And then I feel a little bit sorry for the person asking because I don’t know what it feels like not to have millions of ideas and characters running around inside my head.

But where do ideas come from? It really is a good question if you think about it. Our minds are amazing! Pick up any book in your house or think about a recent read that had a real impact on you…it can boggle your brain to wonder how the author came up with it! Here are some of the ways writers get new ideas…

Image by Colin Behrens from Pixabay
  1. Out of nowhere… Sometimes ideas just come out of nowhere. You can’t trace them back to anything you saw, or heard or felt, or anything that inspired you. They just jump into your brain and they are there, taking up space. With me this is usually because the character invades my mind, sets up camp and then starts chatting. Before long they’ve suggested a back story and a possible plot.
  2. Musical inspiration... Writers will sometimes find an idea growing after listening to music. It could be that the song reminds them of a certain time and place and brings back memories that inspire a storyline. Or it could be the lyrics of the song itself that entice the writer to create a story. While driving, I once heard a song on the radio that instantly transported me back to a certain time in my life and by the time I reached my destination I had a short story in my head. I later evolved it into a novel which is in the first draft stage.
  3. TV/Film/book inspiration… Sometimes the young writers I work with worry that their story ideas are too similar to TV shows or films or books they’ve enjoyed. They’ve fallen in love with something and naturally want to emulate it in their own writing because it’s fun to do so. But they feel self-conscious, like they have stolen an idea or copied a character. I always tell them there is absolutely nothing wrong with this and that a lot of ideas are inspired by things we have enjoyed culturally. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series was originally inspired by me watching The Lost Boys at aged 12! My series has zero vampires in it but the scene when the mother realises her new boyfriend is the head vampire, got me thinking about real life monsters that hide among us, and the story grew from there. Writers ‘magpie’ ideas, taking little bits from here and there to create something new and this is totally fine.
  4. Real life people/places/events… Often writers will feel inspired to write about real life people, places or events. This could be in terms of historical or political fiction, or it could be someone they have known or come across sparks off an idea in their head. Writers people watch a lot and they tend to soak up whatever is around them, so the chances are real life people and events do sneak into their writing, sometimes without them even realising it.
  5. Anxieties and fears… I think this happens to me a lot! Quite a few of my personal fears and anxieties have evolved into novels. I think this is my way of working through what upsets and worries me. I never realise it until later though! For example, another reason The Boy With The Thorn In His Side story came about was my fear at 12 years old that my recently divorced parents would meet new partners I would hate. The Mess Of Me grew out of my own body image issues. This Is Nowhere is essentially about a non-religious character trying to find meaning in life, which is something I was thinking about a lot at the time. The Tree Of Rebels and my current work-in-progress confront my fears around climate change and the destruction of wildlife. Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature contains characters who sort of represent an internal fight I have with myself – one is open-minded, open-hearted and wants to see the best in people and view the future with hope, while the other hates people so much she basically becomes agoraphobic. I don’t think writers always realise it at the time, but I do think our personal fears weave their way into our work.
  6. Long walks… Or long showers! Either way, I find doing something relaxing that you don’t really need to think about for a long time, really allows the ideas to flow. I always get good ideas for stories or plotlines when I am walking my dogs alone. Any time I have had a block or got stuck, it has become unravelled on a walk. Ideas for endings have popped into my head out of nowhere while walking. Dialogue often starts to flow too, so I’ll write it down into my phone or record myself saying it so I don’t forget. If you are ever out of ideas, I would strongly recommend a long walk on your own!

So, that covers some of the places ideas come from and some of the things that spark off stories, but I am sure there must be more. What about you? Where do your ideas come from? Feel free to comment and share!

Guest Post #2 Pandemic Pets – How Our Furry Friends Saved Our Sanity

Hello and welcome to another guest post in my Pandemic Pets feature. Each week I will be welcoming a guest on to The Glorious Outsiders to talk about their pet and how the experience of owning one helped them through the Covid 19 pandemic. For our second post, please welcome Simon Finnis to the blog. Simon is a regular writer at my adult writing group and a fantastic poet and short story writer. Here he talks about how walking his Labrador Harvey made lockdown more bearable.

Pandemic Pet

If we had not fully appreciated the value of a dog as a companion, a source of therapy and love, a force of sanity and comfort in a seemingly crazy world, we certainly do now. Months of vacillating uncertainty as the pandemic raged across communities and nations. The agony of personal doubt and tiptoeing around the edges of pits of despair as the supposed certainties of a previous pre-Covid life are thrown into turmoil. Our Labrador-retriever’s contribution to the year 2020 has been enormous!

My wife and I have had plenty of time and opportunity to better acquaint ourselves with our beloved four-legged friend. His energetic and loving welcome at the start of each morning injected a greater sense of purpose and meaning into our days as a new routine began to take shape. How were our days going to work out? All at once, walking the dog would take on a new enhanced status. Something to cherish.

At a time when it was easy to feel so negative about the world, here was a reason to feel privileged. We had an even stronger motivation to go out and explore our beautiful and varied surroundings during lockdown. Suddenly we found new places to walk close to home. It became possible to relate to the world more from an animal’s perspective, to take time and have a more sensual and engaged relationship with both nature and our built environment. There was certainly less need to rush about crazily as had so often been the case in the past, constantly being driven by the clock; less stressing about work, traffic, shopping or meeting up with friends in time.

There is something infectious about the undimmed enthusiasm of a furry, four-legged companion. Whether at home or outdoors, their curiosity and playful nature has become the perfect antidote to a seemingly grim reality of coronavirus being drip-fed through the media over the last few months. One upside to all the turmoil was a now daily opportunity to escape from all the noise and overwhelming busyness that had hitherto been filling our lives. It was time to see the world from a new perspective, to turn down the volume, adapt to a new rhythm and value each day. I believe that there is much that pets can teach us as humans. If anything, the pandemic has offered the space to develop a greater bond with our dog, fully sensing all the light and beauty it brings into our lives.

Thank you so much to Simon for joining us today! It was lovely to hear how the family dog made lockdown so much more bearable. If you would like to tell us about your pet and how they’ve helped you through the pandemic, then please get in touch! Stories and poems are also welcome!

The Many Wonderful Worlds of a 3 year-old

I realised today that you don’t live in the same world as the rest of us. And why should you?

Yours are so much better.

It does me good to let go of my own adulthood, of the chains of washing up and preparing meals and sweeping up dust and driving from here to there and back again. It does me good to give in to you completely.

Sometimes I view being with you as a chore. Sometimes I think, how much easier it would be to get things done alone, without a little voice chattering at my side. But that’s the adult me. That’s the tired Mum me. That’s the 39-year-old woman who wonders when she will ever stop feeling tired. That’s the woman who has been up since half five this morning and craves the odd snatched five minutes of coffee drinking and Facebook scrolling in the kitchen, out of sight…

But I need to shrug her off. I need to push her away and free myself from those weighted thoughts of shopping, and finances, and to-do lists and never enough time in the world. I need to be in the moment, in the here and the now, existing purely with you. I need to be more like you and enter your magnificent worlds more often.

Days like today remind me. Days when I give in purely and completely to you. Days when I become as you are and see the world as you do. Because you don’t just live in this world because this world, do you? You live in so many others, and there is no strain or drudgery in any of yours. One moment you are a ‘little puppy’. The next you are a burger flipping character named ‘Cooker.’ We never know who or what you will be next. My mind is fascinated by yours. What goes on in there? You are so tiny yet stuffed tight with so many stories!

Today you wanted to use bricks to make car-parks for your cars. You say ‘please, you be this one. Please, you build more par-parks.’ And I’m thinking, with a sigh, but we’ve got to take the dogs out, because we’ve already been to toddler group and had lunch, and it’s not fair to make them wait any longer. You don’t want to go, but I tempt you with a biscuit and in seconds you have your coat and shoes on and we are off.

When we get there, you want to choose the ways. You want to go the ways I don’t want to go. I slip into the usual habits. Grumbling, muttering under my breath, pulling at the dogs, snapping at them to behave, and you just want to climb on the big boulders and jump in the puddles. You want to show me a tree and ask why it has a knobbly bit on it, and it’s there and then that I swallow the exasperation and the impatience and just give in. I feel the fight and the stress seep right out of me.

Because I realise that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you choose ways that I wouldn’t or if you want to climb on rocks and through brambles. It doesn’t matter if the walk takes longer than I intended. None of it matters!

So I let you take charge. And you show me your world.

‘Don’t step on the black bits! They suck you under!’

‘This is my house. This is my fire.’

‘This is my hitting stick.’

‘This is my party.’

At this point, my heart melts entirely. Since you could string the words together, you have referred to a cluster of tree stumps as a ‘party.’ I have no idea where this comes from, but the sight of tree stumps makes you think of parties. So you show me your party, and jump from the tree stumps, then you say we have to go because everything is on fire.

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We run to the next one, further up the hill. A few weeks ago this place was a haze of purple, the heather in full bloom. Now everything is turning orange and brown. Leaves are falling and the earth is dark and wet. One of the dogs runs off and you yell;

‘That’s my dog! Where my dog going?’

So we chase after her and find another party. You make another fire. You show me your bed on the lime green moss of the forest floor. You are totally and utterly inside this world. You slip between worlds so effortlessly, so naturally. You tell me to watch out for the tripping up steps (tree roots) and we abandon the party to march further up the hill.

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I let you choose the way, and we go left, out across the flat of the hill, walking along narrow flattened paths between burnt orange heather and ferns.

‘Don’t walk on that path! Walk on this one!’

‘That one a river!’

‘That boat with tiny people on it.’

‘That tree is my house.’

‘Here you have to do a dance like this…’

‘Here, you have to do a funny walk like this.’

‘I’m the Doctor. I’m Doctor Dad. You’re Amy.’

And just like that, you create another world and invite me inside with you. You’ve got the Tardis key around your neck and your sonic screwdriver in your hand. You stomp your tiny way through ferns taller than you are. You crouch down to bypass needle sharp gorse and tell me we have to find the Tardis because the aliens are coming.

We circle around and down the hill. You pretend to die by going all stiff and then tell me you are another Doctor.

Which one? A girl or a boy?

‘A boy Doctor.’

Are you old or young?

‘I’m an old man Doctor. But if I get hurt, I be another Doctor.’

We walk on, and you never stop talking, never stop imagining. There is no such thing to you as just a tree, or just a fir-cone, or just a stick. Everything has infinite possibilities. Everything becomes a story.

We walk home, we make it back to the Tardis and your key lets us in, and then you see your bricks and cars, and instantly you are back in that game. A small part of me longs a coffee in the kitchen, checking my phone, taking a breather. But I shove that small part away briskly and firmly.

You want me. You ask for me. You require me in your games and in your many, wonderful worlds. I am honoured to be asked, and needed. For I know you won’t always want me there. And when the places you take me are so magical, they make me forget I am a grown up, they make me forget about unpaid bills and unanswered emails, how, why would I ever say no?