I’ve talked about how there is a set of statements people will say that piss off writers (and it to some extent applies to all creative people). But, there exists another set. The ones that do not make someone upset, but just kind of baffle. Like, you think to yourself: “how could someone ask such a question?”
And perhaps the main one of these is “where do you get your ideas?”
Here’s why it is baffling: because, if I knew for certain, I’d be able to engineer it. Anyone could get themselves into the right situation and boom: next great American novel. Next landmark film. The next great musical.
But it doesn’t work that way. Our creativity, our personality, our brains are the deciders of what we make. But, perhaps, I can help a bit with those asking this question, whether about themselves or another artist they admire.
It comes from everything, and yet not. We tend to make what we consume. The kid who grew up reading science fiction and fantasy is more likely to make that sort of thing come later in life.
Your upbringing and my upbringing all lend to what you and I create. And, over time, I’ve traced back my history.
I can see where it originates. Why do I like horror and science fiction? Why do I like nihilistic stories? Why do I like dark comedies? Why am I so fond of alien mind-controlling parasites in fiction?
Easy: I grew up reading K.A. Applegate and R.L. Stine and Aldous Huxley and Lemony Snicket. I enjoy the anime creations of Gen Urobuchi.
And my music tastes are fast songs with occasionally dark lyrics. Fallout Boy, Paramore, My Chemical Romance, Hollywood Undead, and ACDC.
Movie-wise, I watched a lot of (as in many times) Coraline and Men in Black and Disney’s original animated Alice in Wonderland and The Nightmare Before Christmas.
And once you know that, well, it’s easy to see where I get most of my inspiration. What building blocks make me write the way I do. An artist is fostered long before they have the desire to create. It bubbles up in a cauldron.
It bursts like a bomb.
So, there’s an answer. I see the world, and study it for creative ideas—like most writers, and most artists—but what things grab me, what things jump out as useable, is colored by what I know I enjoy. And what I enjoy is personal.
I might walk past a thousand flowers and a thousand quaint little shops and never see a romance novel or children’s fantasy come out of it. But I can walk past a possum playing dead or an old book and my mind will jump and run and create a story even when I need to do something else.
“Where do you get your ideas?”
I think you mean: “How do I get ideas for myself?”
Well, know yourself, and what you like, and explore it, then look out at the world and see what grabs and inspires.
We all have our magic, our spells, our tokens of creativity. Share them in the comments if you like. Because it’s unique to all of us.
Like our ideas. Like our identity.