Write Path Ideas & Creativity: Where do ideas come from? Episode 1.1


Where do ideas come from?
How do you nurture creativity?
How do you stay motivated to be creative?
How do you hone your craft?


How often are you asked this question? Plenty of times, I'm sure.

In my world, ideas are not a rare commodity. My cup overfloweth.

I've grabbed ideas while eavesdropping on conversations, snatched them from newspaper articles, and lifted ideas from one-liners heard on the news. Sometimes ideas come from an overwhelming feeling, an intriguing notion, an unanswered question, or a comment made by a passing someone.

Finding ideas is not the problem (for me). Executing them to finished projects is the challenge and the reality. Deciding which idea to commit to and when, that's another issue entirely.

Ideas exist for everyone. How you pull them down and work with them is the important and unique part. Prioritizing story ideas and organizing them into some sort of queue can sometimes be downright impossible.

And maybe it's unnecessary.

Before you set out to wrangle your ideas into a pigeon-holed version of hierarchy, consider the notion that sometimes, some ideas are just not ready to come out yet to play.

They don't like to be forced.

They need time.

I call this the fermentation stage. Just like bread needs yeast and rest to proof and ferment, ideas need time and thought to bubble up and bloom.

Some ideas like to be teased out slowly. Others burst upon you like a summer thunderstorm.

I've had ideas roll around inside my head for years before they came into full bloom, the story written. I've jotted down notes, written a few scenes, maybe even started the book, but for various reasons, the power of the idea took its time.

When that happens, I stop. Wait. Let it rest and yes, ferment.

I've never worried that I will lose the idea. I have worried that someone else will find my idea and write their version of the story before I get to it.

But that is not likely. Even if two people conceive of the same idea, the delivery of the story will probably be quite different because, well...people are different.

Except, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about not acting upon an idea, and losing it, in her book Big Magic. An idea she neglected skittered off to another author, who happened to be a friend of Elizabeth's, and the friend wrote the book.

No, they had not discussed the idea.

Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.

You decide.

Liz calls it a muse thing. The "idea muse," tired of the neglect, simply took its stuff elsewhere.

There are things that can arrest the growth and development of an idea.
  • Stress
  • Life chaos
  • Balancing too many responsibilities.
  • A day job
  • Procrastination
Worrying about making enough money to feed the kids or pay the mortgage on your meager writing income, could be another.

Like Robert McKee said in Story, "...exhaustion sets in, concentration wanders, creativity crumbles...." Life may impede creativity but try not to let it get in the way of your ideas.

If you don't have time to think about it right now, jot down some notes. Create an idea folder, or a journal, where these ideas go. Have it handy—keep it with you—be it a notes app on your phone or a notebook in your purse or backpack.

Personally, I don't talk (much) about my ideas with others—I have a theory that talking about ideas kills the magic, deader than a doornail.


I conceived many story ideas while driving to and from my teaching job in years past. My kids were younger then, and life was hectic, juggling the work/life balance. The hour commute between home and school was the best, and often only, quiet time of my day. I hatched many a plot behind the steering wheel of my car.

I recall one such idea. I'd heard talk via the rural grapevine about a man who had moved into a neighboring farm property. He was an outsider and did things differently than the folks who had lived in the area for generations. His home was a beautiful southern mansion, bordered by a meandering creek, rock fences, and gently rolling Kentucky hills. I wondered about that stranger and his ways, and every time I drove by that house on my way to work, I thought about what his story might be, or how I would use my perception—my ideas—about this person as a character in a story.

The daily reminder of driving by the house embedded that germ of an idea in my mind. I wrote half of the novel in fits and starts over time. Years later, I moved, no longer driving by that house. Even though it took another decade to finish the book, the idea had solidified enough that I could still run with it.

One reason it took so long to write the book was because it was early in my writing career. Even though the story and the characters nagged at me, every time I opened the manuscript I realized how poorly written the thing was and I'd poke at it for a while and then close it up again.

It wasn't the idea's fault. The idea was great. The prose needed work. And it wasn't until I quit my day job years later, that I found the time and energy to devote to the idea and the prose and the story and finally, finally—with the help of my outstanding editor—finished writing the book.

The entire process took about twenty years. In all that time, the idea never left me.

It swam around inside my head and as the plot twisted and solidified—when I had time to give to the idea—it came together. The writing, because I was a more experienced writer then, later in my game, was improved—and the story was better for the wait.

Is it the best book I've written? No. It's not. But the story is told, and the characters in my head have halted their chatter. They are happy. I have moved on to other characters, other stories.

I was lucky. My "idea muse" let me keep the idea and toy with it. My characters were patient, even though they prodded and poked. Unlike Liz Gilbert, I didn't lose my idea to another author. And I didn't die before the story was told. (This is a common fear!)

I don't get that pang of regret in my belly because the story went untold. I do get a warm feeling of satisfaction knowing that I'd succeeded and once more, and had cheated the grim reaper of storytelling.


This week I'll be posting #WritePath posts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I hope you'll drop back in later in the week.

In the meantime, take a minute to ponder the questions listed at the beginning of this post: 

Where do ideas come from?
How do you nurture creativity?
How do you stay motivated to be creative?
How do you hone your craft?

For more articles on writing, search the hashtags #microworkshop or #writepath within this blog.