How I Come Up With Ideas

One of the questions I’m asked most often, and from what I gather a lot of authors are, is: “Where do you come up with your ideas?”

This is a fair, yet hellish, question.

I don’t really come up with ideas so much as I piece together old ideas like a jigsaw puzzle and present them as new. If that makes sense.

I’ve been sick all week and so I thought I would take this post and piece together where one idea came from in order to illustrate the process. I thought this would be an easy post and I could get back to sneezing and drinking orange juice. I was wrong. This has turned out very weird and one of the weirdest aspects is that I now have to demonstrate where the idea to demonstrate where the ideas come from came from.

Follow? (ha!)

On my desk are a bunch of legal pads and on those legal pads are line after line, in permanent sharpie for some reason, of ideas.

This is where I jot down thoughts for blog posts. The stuff on the legal pads range from utterly useless (stuff I jot down thinking it makes sense when I’m walking back from the bathroom at two in the morning) to completely formed (I have to pick some NCAA basketball teams for a mini-bracket soon and I’m sure I’ll dig some jokes out of that process, how little I know about sports and the various team nicknames).

Also I quite obviously spilled something on the legal pad. No idea what that is.

Last night the legal pad was of no use. Most of my best ideas are already used and crossed out. All that’s left is half-baked crap. I can’t exactly mine gold out of the phrase: “I hate chap stick.” It’s worth noting, though, that it was very important for me to jot down, “I hate chap stick,” when it popped into my head. I’ll never use it, but the brain can be trained to either close off outlets or open them up, and every idea you have that you don’t jot down because you deem it stupid equals twenty more ideas that never bother popping up at all for fear of rejection.

So I had nothing. At which point I started wondering where I was going to come up with an idea.

This is where things get very strange. You, I hope, can see that the end idea for this blog post was sitting right there. I was sitting there wondering where I come up with ideas. But that wasn’t an idea yet, it was a question. I didn’t write it down, I didn’t pursue it, I just asked it and then went back to panicking and sneezing.

To brainstorm, a lot of times, I’ll go over to google images and punch in stuff and look at pretty or weird pictures and hope for something to jump out at me. There was nothing there.

It was then, and only then, that I decided that maybe a post about where I had come up with the idea for some past post or story might be a good idea. I thought about it and, this is usually a good sign, I got scared and decided it wasn’t a good idea. I always get a little adrenaline rush whenever I get an idea that tells me not to use that idea. Before every story there’s always a little voice that says, “You can’t write that. Can you?”

If you’re an author, learn to listen to that little voice, it’s very perceptive. Learn to listen to it and then do the exact opposite of what it says because while it’s very perceptive it’s also very stupid.

So I’ve got a concept, not really even an idea yet, and a lot of doubts about whether I’ll be able to write anything on it because I didn’t know which past story of mine to use in order to walk through the process of coming up with an idea. Mainly because by the time I get to a finished product the process it took to get there is gone. It’s very hard to remember what a story felt like inside before it came out. It’s like tracking a fish by its footprints.

And then I realized that what I was doing right then was what I needed to focus on because what I was going through right then was what it felt like to try and come up with, and then flesh out, an idea. Only the idea I was trying to flesh out was an idea about what it was like trying to flesh out that very idea.

Which is completely mad.

And what I opted to write.

And there  it is.

Nothing into question into concept into rearranging everything to wind up with the idea for this post being the idea I would focus on.

Right.

That was probably about as noneducational as an attempt at demonstrating an idea’s origins could possibly have been.

Never ask an author where he gets his ideas.

Never.

Especially not one with a fever.