I vividly remember going to an author signing as a middle schooler and asking this question when I got to the front of the line. I had handed over my book and the author, who shall not be named, didn’t even glance at me. My little heart was beating so fast, my palms were clammy, and I’m sure my voice was shaking. It was the first time I was seeing a real writer, in the flesh. So, of course, the only question I could think of was “Where do your ideas come from?”
The author, finished the fancy signature in the book, flipped it closed, and slid the book across the table. Barely looking up at me, they answered, “If I knew that, kid, I’d bottle it and sell it.”
I was heartbroken.
My best friend and I had spent about an hour and a half with her dad watching the author talk about the new book in a series, reading an excerpt, chatting about the world they’d made, and generally being a book nerd. I had only gotten more and more excited to meet this person who seemed so much wiser than me. Getting a book signed had come with rules – No pictures, no additional books, and only one question.
My question was wasted.
What I know now
Now, after years of writing, reading, a full degree in English including classes in creative writing as well as continuous additional workshops since then, I know that not being sure where your ideas come from is actually a very bad sign.
If you want to keep writing for the long term, you need to know what inspires your work.
You may be thinking, “HA, very funny coming from somebody who isn’t even published yet.” Sure. I’m not published yet. But I’ve also got a full book of ideas and topics I want to write about because I know where they come from. I’m never going to have somebody ask me that and say “I don’t know.”
So, where do my ideas come from?
The books I read, the music I listen to, the movies/shows I watch, the conversations I have, the problems I encounter, the view of the frost covered trees on the way to work, experiences….LIFE.
It took me a while to realize that my ideas for stories are tied to my favorite tropes and character types along with challenges that fascinate me. Until of course, I took that course I took a while ago. I was taught to actually write down my favorite things, all of it, even what I thought might be boring to somebody else or not make a good story to read. Then, combine them in interesting ways. It’s the same concept as those prompt cards you see everywhere, but they’re your prompts and you’re guaranteed to like all of them! You won’t get that one you dread unless you put it there…which is odd as it’s a list of your favorite pieces of your favorite things.
Mine have had ghibli movie vibes with dragons, found family with old homes, and most recently a witch in a quiet forest.
Do you have a way of finding ideas that works for you? Are there specific movies, shows, or books you like to return to for influence?