Where Do Ideas Come From?

I saw a few minutes of an interview with writer/director Nancy Meyers and she said she struggles with ideas. I have the opposite problem, too little time for all my ideas. My inspirations are my career as a cyber criminal profiler and snippets of overhead conversations while commuting, wandering around San Francisco, etc. My question, dear Miss Demeanors, is a 2-parter: do you have trouble with ideas, and where do your ideas come from? Tracee: I don’t have trouble with ideas, they come from things I’ve overheard, experienced or seen. Often I’m inspired by a place – recently, sitting riverside in Porto a character jumped into my mind. I could see her as clearly as if she’d sat in a nearby chair. What she was doing, what happened to her (and it was a WOW! happening), everything about a story came to me. My problem is deciding which to use. For the Agnes Luthi mysteries, place is very often the inspiration: in A Well-Timed Murder it was the famous watch and jewelry show in Basel, but I have ideas for ski lodges, hiking trails, villages that produce cheese, thermal bath resorts. Place place place. My twist on location location location.  Cate: Hey, I wrote a book about where I, and I think all writers, get ideas: Lies She Told. I think they form from some crazy mix of overheard conversations, people who make impressions, friends, family members, news articles, BOOKs, forgotten memories, malignant traumas, etc. Alexia: I also have the too many ideas problem. Ideas for the “best story ever” are constantly popping into my head. I overhear a conversation, I turn it into a plot. I read an article in the paper or see something on the news, I turn it into a plot. Some random factoid lands in my Facebook feed or turns up in a Google search for something unrelated–I turn it into a plot. I see a movie or TV show or read a book that I like, I start writing fanfic in my head. My trouble is choosing one plot to develop into a novel-length story (or realizing there’s not enough to work with and setting the idea aside) without getting distracted by all of the other stories begging to be written. I’ve no problem writing for entertainment. I choose fiction, whether TV, movie, or book, for entertainment and escape. I know the real world is (too) often a hard, cruel place where people (too) often don’t care what happens to other people and the bad guy (too) often gets away with it. I don’t enjoy reading or watching things that reinforce my (admittedly cynical) view. I look for fiction that shows me what’s possible, what could be, what we can hope for, what should be. I don’t necessarily need rainbows and roses but I had enough of the angsty hero slogging through a dark and dreary world back in the 1990s. I write books that, I hope, let readers forget their woes for a little while. I don’t consciously attempt to write about something BIG or an issue-with-a-capital-I. I hope I provide readers with a mental break from misery and pain and anxiety so they can recharge and refresh and gear up to go on fighting the good fight IRL. If my books were a phase in the Hero’s Journey, they’d be the Road Back. Alison: Hmmm. I don’t think I have trouble coming up with ideas, but I honestly don’t know where they come from. Blessed be the Wicked will be the first in a series of Mormon murder mysteries. The ideas for these books have been bouncing around my head ever since I was the least favorite kid in Sunday school. (I’m convinced that the Sunday school teacher who drew the shortest straw had to teach my class.) When I was about eight or nine, there was a woman running around Utah public libraries putting band-aids across the “naughty bits” in books depicting ancient Roman and Greek statues. I was the little girl who raised her hand in church and asked why, if Adam and Eve were naked in the Garden of Eden, the statues were bad?  I’d say, for this series, my ideas come from the religion I was born into: baptism for the dead, blood atonement, eternal family bonds, penalty oaths, polygamy, belief in ongoing revelation…the list is pretty long for interesting twists and characters who might take things a little too far.  Beyond that, I second what all of you have said. I think writers, by nature, are observers. 
Paula: Ideas are everywhere. The trick is to recognize the germ of one when you see it. I rely on process to help me do that: reading, research, brainstorming, walking, yoga, meditation. All of which amounts to paying attention.  When I am paying attention, ideas happen. Serendipity happens. Synchronicity happens. Story happens.
Michele: I get my ideas from all sorts of places. They come in a steady stream, not that all are worthy of a book or even a paragraph. For me, the key is to stay tuned in. That means listening and watching all of the time, or as we yogis say, being present. I see stories everywhere. For example, on my plane trip to Puerto Vallarta on Tuesday, I watched a young mother with her little boy, who seemed to be about 8, waiting for their plane. She was so nervous, her legs were shaking. He was so in tune with her, he stretched over in a hug of sorts to stop them. We happened to sit behind them on the plane. There was a simpatico between them, a silent understanding of what each needed and expected from the other. They were Mexican, he with a head of hair so full and black, I wanted to touch it. She was tired looking, with hair that needed a shampoo. Where were they going, I wanted to know. Who was waiting for them? Were they returning or starting anew? Next my imagination kicks in, inventing all sorts of answers to these questions. And I’m off to creating a story, which becomes my story, not theirs. 

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