Snips and Snails
"Where do ideas come from?"
I hear that question a lot. And I think sometimes I take it for granted - sometimes I feel like I'm just drinking from a fire hose, or trying to pluck fish from the stream with my bare hands. Or maybe it's bear hands. I don't know.
But ideas don't just happen, they don't just appear on the page in front of you; there are things you can do to help the process along, and I thought I'd share a few of the tips I've picked up along the way.
1. Pay attention. Ideas are everywhere. Billboards, song lyrics (misheard or otherwise), conversations, books, fortune cookies... the list goes on and on. Watch everything. Read everything. If you're supposed to "write what you know", then know as much as you can. Stuff it all into your face holes and you'll be surprised how much of it will start to take on a life of its own, connecting and interconnecting and .forming new relationships. That bumper sticker? That friend of yours from sophomore math class? That song you loved back in 2008? These are all details that might form into something interesting. It's okay to people-watch, just don't be creepy about it.
2. Take Notes. Some of these observations will stick with you, but don't rely on "I'll never forget that" - it's not always true. Jot this stuff down, file it and organize it. And chances are, you'll come back across it when you really need it. This is also a good idea if you tend to dream a lot. Building up a habit of writing down your dreams in the moments after you wake up (the times you're most likely to remember them) is a great way to come up with ideas, concepts, phrases that you might not always come up with in the middle of the day. Good for song lyrics, too. If your subconscious knows the pen and paper are waiting for your ideas, it can make it easier to transition the ideas from your dream and onto the page.
3. Have weird friends. For the record, "weird" is good. You can also substitute the word "interesting" and "amazing." Surrounding yourself with a collection of fascinating and though-provoking people is an excellent way to challenge yourself to be imaginative and clever. This can, in turn, help reinforce habits which encourage you to think and stretch your potential. Plus, having a lot of weird people around you can provide you a good source to bounce ideas off or generate conversations which may trigger good ideas all on their own. But also, weird people are the best people, I think.
4. Test drive your ideas. Just like buying a car or a pair of shoes, give your ideas a test drive; take them around the block and see how you like them. They may be good for now, you may need time to grow into them, or they might need time to grow onto you. I've got entire folders worth of randomly jotted-down bits and baubles, and I may never even use all of them, but someday they'll find a place, and I'm fine with waiting. And a lot of the ideas I've used before sprang from little seeds of ideas. They needed time to germinate and develop. Some of them ended up being pulled from what grew out of other ideas, and so forth. You never really know.
When I was much younger, I was camping in Zion National Park in southern Utah, and on my last day I was hanging out by the parking lot before leaving, and a crow landed on the ground near me. He cawed at me, and I asked him how his day was going. He cawed again, and then pecked at the ground. Whatever it was he picked up, he tasted it, spat it out and pecked at something else. He did this over and over until he found something he liked, ate it, and, looking at me again, cawed again. He repeated this process, pecking, spitting out, pecking, swallowing, cawing, over and over until the area around him was pretty cleared out, and then he hopped to another spot and repeated the entire process. Each time, he would pause to caw at me, and I imagined he was asking if I understood him.
By the third time, I laughed. "Okay, brother, I got you." He cawed again, and flew off.
The moral? Sample it all. Spit out the stuff that doesn't work, and take in the stuff that does.
Works for me, and it'll work for you.
How about you, fellow travelers? What sorts of tricks have you found help you with ideas for your stories, songs or whatever?