Forty Years, Forty Posts #34

Eventually someone will probably ask me, “where do you get your ideas?” It hasn’t happened yet, but other writers talk about it all the time. Maybe it’s because I only have one book that’s even close to publication, so the only thing people would ask is, “where did you get your idea?”

The possible answers to the purportedly ubiquitous question are a subject of discussion among authors, with some tending toward the snarky (“I find them in cereal boxes” or “they come on postcards from a a woman in Kansas, I don’t know why she sends them to me.”) I guess that’s due to a combination of thinking the questioner isn’t really that interested, just making conversation, and that the real answer is too complicated to really go into without being pedantic and self important.

I’ve always been an idea guy. I’m not that good about writing them down, but I have laundry lists of book ideas captured to Word documents and older ideas scratched out in notebooks. I think it’s just because you decide you want to be a writer you know you need to have ideas so you think about it all the time. You glance through a newspaper or talk to friends or take a walk and possibilities emerge. If it’s still bouncing around in your head when you’re at a keyboard or have a notebook handy, it might be worth jotting down.

There’s no magic to it. If you needed soda cans instead of ideas, you’d carry a bag around and collect them when you see them smashed up in the alleyway or lying by a garbage can where someone missed. Before long you’d have more of them than you’d know what to do with. “Where do you get your soda cans?” Someone might ask. You shrug. They’re all over, if you’re looking for them, but easy to ignore if you aren’t.

The problem is that ideas are about as valuable as soda cans. The hard part is making it germinate and grow. Is that a mixed metaphor? I don’t know. For me it’s just about as rare and difficult as planting a piece of scrap metal and growing a tree.

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