The Creative Spark—How Do You Get Your Ideas? And Where Do They Come From?
As a published author, the number-one question I’m asked by people who aren’t writers is a variation of “How do you get your ideas? Where do your ideas come from?” Think this question is easy to answer? Give it your best shot. But be warned—proceed with caution.
Greater minds than mine have been trying to come up with a satisfying response for more than three thousand years. The ancient Greeks of Socrates’s time believed ideas and inspiration came from being possessed by the gods and blessed by Zeus’s nine daughters, the Muses. Later, during their Renaissance, the Italians tied the idea of genio to pazzia, the thought that inspiration was linked to madness. Neither claiming divine possession nor creative craziness work for today’s writer.
The honest answer, “Uh, I don’t know. From everywhere?” doesn’t satisfy. People revere creativity and inspiration. And most want to be told how to capture it for themselves. They expect a more detailed answer from a fiction-writing professional than a vague, “everywhere.” And to be honest, they think you’re holding out on them and keeping the secret handshake to yourself.
“From life” seems like another good response. But on inspection, that doesn’t fly either. I write humorous romantic suspense novels about spies. Tell people I get my ideas from life and they look at me funny. No, I’ve never garroted someone with a lei or been chased by a bike-pump-wielding assassin like my heroine in The Spy Who Left Me. And, no, I’m not a secret agent like my heroes are. Though you’ll just have to take my word for it, because if I were a secret agent, would I tell you here?
Truthfully, I’ve been stumped for years, stammering an answer when asked. Until my husband pointed me to an excellent book, The Riddle, Where Ideas Come From and How to Have Better Ones by Andrew Razeghi. The book is geared toward building conceptual creativity for innovation in business, but much of what Razeghi says applies to artistic creativity. He posits that curiosity begets creativity. When I read that, I had an aha moment—that’s where my ideas come from, my insatiable curiosity! For years, I’ve been taking this question too literally.
Where do my ideas come from? From pondering questions like, “What would it be like to be married to a spy in the vein of James Bond?” “How would I escape from an assassin?” “Would it be fun to lie for a living?” “How does it feel to love a dangerous man?”
Feel free to claim my answer as your own. By telling people curiosity inspires your ideas, you’re giving them the secret to finding their inspiration. Anyone can be curious. It’s a big relief to people that creativity doesn’t take genius. And it preserves the real top-secret source of a writer’s ideas—the Internet 😉
Where do you tell people your ideas come from? I’d love to hear.
Watch a video for The Spy Who Left Me:
(If you’re unable to view the above video, click here to watch it at vimeo.com).