Writers and Artists: Where do you get your Ideas?

As a writer of fiction, with some of my time spent writing posts for this blog, I am often asked where I get my ideas for new projects and how can a creative person sustain the idea-factory once they’ve begun a piece.

I suppose when it comes to blog posts I don’t have troubles because the world is filled with big and important things happening — it’s just a matter of picking a subject among the hundreds, something I care about, and then writing a post centered on that topic.

Fiction is an entirely different beast for me. I tend to get many ideas for new stories but, many of them never pan out. For instance, I have a story that’s been entering my mind for more than a year, yet so far, I cannot create a full story thread from that idea, so I’m letting it sit and stew until it does. Chances are, I’ll never write that story but, since it keeps entering my mind, perhaps I’ll finally get that full hook or thread to build a book. That often happens – many story ideas never take. I recommend three books to help get the creative juices flowing:

Ernest Hemingway on Writing, by Ernest Hemingway

 

Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury. 

 

On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft,
by Stephen King. 

 

Regarding Hemingway, what is there for me to say, other than he is a classic American Novelist who had a colorful life and wrote amazing works that have been dissected well beyond the talents I hold. He was famous for efficient (less is more) writing. One of my favorite quotes from Hemmingway, which I attempt to recall regularly, is:

If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.”

How often do we attempt to write efficiently?

As for Bradbury, he ingeniously created works that contained many different messages. For example, his Fahrenheit 451 book is most often remembered for book burning, and of course that is a major element in his story; however, in the background we see many other lessons imparted, including the development of a controlling society that has locked itself off from the rest of the world even as nuclear war approaches. Mr. Bradbury has many beautiful and productive things to say about writing and reading his book can only help us deepen our craft. I especially enjoy the opening lines of his first chapter (in The Joy of Writing):

Zest. Gusto. How rarely one hears these words used. How rarely do we see people living, or for that matter, creating by them.”

Do you live and write (or create in some other form) with zest and gusto? We each have days when writing offers an unjoyful challenge but, if we don’t hold a real excitement and energy for our work, it will show through the projects we produce. Writing fiction must come from the heart.

Of course, in modern times, Stephen King is a writer without equal. His ability to create storylines and memorable characters are talents we mere mortals can only hope to attain in some lesser way. His discipline is nothing short of amazing, and the sheer volume of his annual output has few peers. As with Bradbury, he often employs many different messages in his stories. For example, in his epic book, The Stand, we see not only the dangers of experiments go wrong but, we see the human condition in all its weakness and glory throughout the book. In his “On Writing” memoir, he offers what i consider to be one of the clearest statements I’ve ever read regarding this topic:

“Stories are found things, like fossils in the ground… Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered, pre-existing world.”

I believe Mr. King is on to something with that quote (and considering how prolific he is, that should come as no surprise). I often find that I’m not creating a story; rather, I’m finding a story bit-by-bit until the entire tale is unburied and told. I frequently marvel when—after I’ve been writing for hours and the text fills page-after-page—I realize the tale flew onto the screen without effort as if my mind simply found the story and I were merely a stenographer relaying it to my readers. As for whether my novels are worthy of being read, and whether my writing of those stories held quality or was complete trash, I’ll leave that to my readers.

As for how I continue once I’m stuck in the middle of a story, that’s a bit easier for me to handle. I’ve always believed the only way through when I’m stuck is to crash the gates. By this, I’m saying; when stuck, I’ll write anything about the story, knowing that what I’m laying down is likely utter garbage. I’ll continue crashing the gates until I unbury (or find as Mr. King states above) the next piece of the tale. The key is to push through until you unearth those story fossils hiding in your mind. You must entice your brain to release those nuggets—let you find them. That is what works for me – each writer has their own way.

I’ve also tried, when I’m stuck, to think of a word that best describes the last chapter I wrote. Then, focusing only on that word, I write a few pages about it, while attempting to relate it to my main story. Sometimes that simple exercise unearths the next plot line in my novel or story.

How do you create and sustain your creative work? Let me know in the comments, which are available in the link above, or in the box below. Also, if you’d like, join my mailing list (below) so I can notify you of new blog posts and updates regarding my books.

Thanks for reading and I hope you read many great books. Please share this post. 🙂

T.P. Johnson


 

2 Replies to “Writers and Artists: Where do you get your Ideas?”

  1. I’ve just started the Stephen King one myself-but I also have the problem of a zillion ideas and only half finished work. I tend to keep it on my memory stick and visit those pieces every once in a while to see if I want to start them up again.

    1. Thanks for commenting. The King book is excellent. I have the same issue, as I think most writers do — ideas that do not go anywhere initially but, sometimes a light clicks and you can “see” the rest of the story. 🙂

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