One of the questions people who don’t write yet tend to ask people who are already writing is, “Where do you get your ideas?”
Frankly, there is no answer to that question because the process is different for every writer and, at least for me, different for every idea. While I can’t answer that question directly, I can answer it tangentially, and partly by issuing a challenge.
I think one of the things that differentiates people who write from people who don’t is a specific kind of world view. People who write, in my experience, tend to pay a lot of attention to what is going on in the world around them and tend to be–this is even true with fiction writers–realists and pragmatists. I think the source of a lot of writers’ ideas tend to be events happening around them changed through the filter of their own creativity.
Writers tend to achieve this state of realism and pragmatism by being deeply connected to the events of history and of their own times. Writers tend to be the most voracious readers, tend to be deeply involved in politics of one sort or another, and tend to be willing to learn just about anything that happens to come along. In my experience, it is not unusual to find writers who are also engaged in a dozen other pursuits unrelated to writing.
This connectedness serves as the engine for creativity, constantly exposing the writer to new thoughts, new ideas, and new ways of doing things. Inevitably, these new things will periodically create an idea strong enough that it becomes the basis for something the writer will write, mostly because that’s what writers tend to do with such ideas.
So, if you want to find your own ideas, the first step is to get connected. I probably spend 3 t0 4 hours everyday just reading through my regular cycle of weblogs, news sources, and social media connections, and that does not include the books I am reading. Because of the amazing tool of social media, I conduct dozens of conversations a day about things that catch my attention.
I’m guessing, because I’ve never really kept track, that this behavior is good for at least a couple of new ideas a week. Now, most of those ideas die young due to disinterest or lack of follow-through, but I probably commit at least 3 or 4 ideas to some more formal status every month. That’s 36 to 48 ideas a year. Of course, most of those ideas won’t go much further, but a few of them will, and those few ideas that do move forward is what writing is all about.
For a new writer, I recommend carrying a notebook around. Granted, you can use a smartphone or a tablet, but I find that writing ideas by hand adds an extra level of intimacy for new writers that helps them see how their ideas come into being and how they can develop them. Down the road, every writer develops different styles for developing ideas, but everyone has to start somewhere, and the notebook works for a lot of people.
Once a new writer has some ideas captured, he has to think about them. By thinking about them, I mean actively mulling them over in his head kind of thinking. I find that this idea of active thinking is one of the hardest things for most modern people to comprehend and achieve. Most people don’t actively think about things. They feel. They react. They don’t think. If you want to write, you have to learn to think, actively and intensively and extensively. I have sometimes been accused of being lazy or distracted, and I can assure you that what I was doing during those times was thinking.
Finally, once a new writer has developed an idea by thinking about it, he has to act on it, but that action does not have to be good. I can assure you that most of my idea development is crap, but within that crap are the gems from which good stories will come. Frankly, if a writer never puts out the crap, he never gets the gems either.
So, at the end of all of it, I guess ideas come from life and being connected to it. From there, ideas are what the writer does with them.