Notes on where ideas come from – 1

This is the crux of writing isn’t it? Well creative writing, fiction, poems and the like. Generating ideas and turning it into a “something”. This is one of those things that sets us apart from other animals, in that we can get ideas beyond our instant needs or requirements, and take them somewhere. Build them into a different thing. Something that speaks to our minds, or if you want to put it this way, our hearts and souls. Fundamentally, writing about “a something” derives from two functions. Having an idea, and the ability to turn that idea into that which communicates with people. Both can be tough. Especially the first part.

In having less time to spend on writing lately, I’ve begun to evaluate the different facets of it, and how I do it. What are my strengths? What works for me? What doesn’t work for me? These are the sort of questions I’m asking. Ideas might be examined in different forms. For simplicity, I first thought about the context of smaller projects, with the initial idea as it appears, and a little on how that idea is expanded on.

(Image Source: Microsoft Clip art)

I’ve been asked a few times about how I work the 15 minute poem exercise, which is not to say I am an expert, but that the results, for the allotted time, have been decent, at least on some occasions. Or at least interesting on some occasions. For me it is a fun exercise, which involves some focus, but also allows the dropping of some boundaries, which in real terms means, “opens up the subject matter which I can write about, to anything”. Usually I do not sit at the notebook / blog with entirely a blank slate. I will usually have a prompt first. This prompt comes from many places. It might be a phrase I read, the name of a book or song, or the name of an episode of a tv show. Regular readers will know that I took got two poems from the name of an episode of the eighties animated show “Spiderman and friends”. The first because I misheard the name of the episode, and the second where I then decided to use the correct name.

Having the prompt, I then can begin. Sometimes I have the prompt for several hours prior to the writing, during which I might (or might not) think of the odd idea. I try not to think of actual lines of the poem unless a strong line pops into my head, mainly because I like the exercise of doing it at the time, within the time limit. Other times, I just have the prompt only, and sit down to begin.

With that in mind, I will then think for a minute or two, usually not more, of what the prompt might mean to me, or what might be a good angle to approach it. For example with the prompt “Knights and Demons“, It made me think of what might make a person be a knight, and head off from there. The line with the naughty word pretty much appeared at the beginning so that set a tone. Married with the other idea, I set off to see what came out. In this instance, I did not want to tell a direct story such as a knight vs a specific demon, but that was where I was at the time. Another day another idea. Possibly.

To me it seems odd, but quite quickly I normally have an idea or two for a mini story (which may be a story thematically), and the means to tell it is then spread across how many verses it may be. For example, I might be thinking of four or five verses of four lines. Perhaps each line has a certain amount of syllables. Or perhaps I want a couple of large verses. It depends what I feel at the time, so I write to that. Maybe add or remove a verse, change up some words here or there, occasionally change the structure as something better has come out. I think of the main beats of the story and map it to the verses. For example, verse one the character asks a question or has a revelation. Verse two, something that relates to it. The final verse, adds a conclusion or switches it by asking a further question. And that is pretty much it. Working to the time limit I can “hit the story” pretty quickly. So far I don’t feel I have anything unfinished, although I do think on some I could add more if I wished to do so. A sort of directors cut.

Thinking about this now, I do not know why this works for me. My mind doesn’t go blank, I have virtually the opposite of a blank slate. If this was a larger project, I would dawdle along. Perhaps it is the allotted time limit. Perhaps I need to start doing things like this on my larger projects e.g. 15 minutes on ideas only. 15 minutes on the specifics of a scene. Something to experiment with? Perhaps.

Where do your ideas start from on smaller projects, e.g. poems, short fiction or blog pieces (I will save longer fiction for another time)?

Lexicon word of the day: parsimonious.


19 comments on “Notes on where ideas come from – 1

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    Sounds like a sound method. I’ve never really thought too much about it. The ideas so far have just been there. The problem comes with the issue of whether I’ll be able to sustain the concept into something with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

    • Elliot says:

      I had not given it much thought either really, because I usually just get ideas popping into my head at random moments. But then I wondered if that was really just the case or if there was a bit more encouragement.

      Obviously using a prompt is slightly different, or takes you some way on the journey but I’m wondering if certain things are conducive to getting ideas, and if so, what they are.

  2. I suppose I don’t put much thought into it – when something strikes me, I jot it down and for some reason the pen continues to write until either I finish it or the creative flow stops. I will never understand where some of these things come from that I write about or how it happens to come to me, but I do so love the creative process – it’s almost as if I’m completely caught up in another place, where I don’t think about the grocery shopping, what the kids need for school tomorrow, etc. It’s just me and the words, and there’s nothing else like it. As I’ve said before and we have discussed, there surely is a benefit to being more disciplined and ‘planning’ out the work, but I’m not there yet.

    • Elliot says:

      I know exactly what you are saying. When you get caught up in that moment and let it run loose. It is a bit like one of those stories where the child runs into the woods following something, then finds the secret garden. The creative process is a bit like entering the woods and seeing what you find.

      I do find it an interesting question asking where ideas come from, who knows I may find some interesting routes to take. But then I don’t want to totally kill the romance of it either.

  3. jmmcdowell says:

    Hmm, sometimes I’m not aware of how the idea gets in my head. But other times, I might be inspired by another blogger’s post or a random thought that hits me when talking with family and friends—or myself when I’m alone.

    • Elliot says:

      I often get ideas for blog posts from other blogs, or conversations with friends / family members. I have had story ideas pop into my head at totally random times. But on others, like when putting my boy to bed, whilst he drops off sometimes I take 5-10 mins of quiet just to think of ideas, and I have had one or two decent ones.

  4. Ideas pop up when I’m not thinking about them. I have post-its for future blog topics and 2-3 lines jotted down about story ideas on notebook paper. Anything can inspire me, but not everything does. So I’ve learned to write it down the second an idea pops into my head or add a note in my phone.

    • Elliot says:

      I have an app or two for noting ideas down, on my phone. That is a big thing actually, that when a random idea occurs, that you are able to capture it somehow and therefore remember it later.

  5. Dan says:

    That’s the trouble I’ve had with blogging recently – the ideas are just drying up. I fear being repetitive or writing about the same damn thing all the time which may please me immensely but likely turns off 95% of the small audience I have.

    Blogging ideas for me are usually just something random that I feel like writing about. I find that if I don’t write about it immediately, the ship sails and I never write about it. Of course, having actual time to blog is at a premium these days so perhaps I’d be wise to revisit some of those ideas.

    • Elliot says:

      Maybe you need to fit a schedule of one or two posts a week and that in turn might give you the focus in keeping ideas noted / in check. Assuming you have time of course. I’m aiming for two a week, and have to squeeze the time around everything else.

  6. DyingNote says:

    Mine for the DyingNote blog used to come from plugging myself in to music (iPod + a decent noise reduction headphone) and a few mugs of craft beer. A rough sketch would take the form of scribbles on a writing pad, a sort of cue card for the post. Now that I’ve resumed after the long, unplanned break, the craft beer has been let go of

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