Where do ideas come from? Creative inspiration (and how to find it)

It’s July and time for this month’s authors’ Round Robin. Thanks to author Robin Courtright for setting the topic…

round robin, helena fairfax, freelance editor

What book (or type of book) are you currently working on? Do you have ideas for future books?

I have an answer to both those questions (see below!) and this month’s topic also made me think about something authors get asked a lot.

Where do your ideas come from?’

Creative inspiration is a strange and fascinating thing to me, like a sort of magic.  The Greeks thought inspiration came from the gods.  I hope scientists don’t ever get to the bottom of how people create. It would ruin the magic. It’s satisfying to think our ideas come by some sort of divine intervention, even though when it comes down to it, expanding on those ideas is down to sheer hard work.

(As famously said by Thomas Edison: ‘Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.’)

helena fairfax
       Image courtesy of Pixabay
Finding creative inspiration

Here are a some of the ways I come up with fresh ideas. These work for me…

  • I sit down and write. Sometimes there’s nothing like having to write, and having a deadline, to get ideas flowing. If I have a very rough idea for a story, but don’t know how to flesh it out, I set myself a time limit – perhaps forty minutes or an hour – and just start writing. The problems in the story present themselves, and, because I’m forced to keep writing, I have to find a way around them. Other ideas follow. I have no idea why that is, but perhaps it’s because, in the act of writing, I’m using that part of the brain that comes up with ideas.
  • On the other hand, sometimes it’s better not to force ideas to come.  It’s OK to daydream.  J.K. Rowling had the idea for Harry Potter while stuck on a train, staring out of the window.  It’s fine just to do nothing from time to time apart from look into space. (This is where I’ve found a mobile phone and the constant distraction of social media is a real drain on creativity. With the internet, you’re always a click away from being entertained by someone else. It’s a temptation I find hard to resist, and a barrier to dreaming up ideas.)
helena fairfax
    Image courtesy of Pixabay
  • Don’t be a perfectionist. Over the years I’ve managed to wean myself away from this one. Worrying about getting things right will only stop you creating altogether. I’m not a naturally confident person, and I’ve found lack of confidence a massive barrier to ideas. Now I genuinely think only of the story, and the characters in it, and I’m far more creative than when I was anxious about things being ‘right’.
  • It’s OK to be distracted sometimes.  Sometimes your domestic life or your family or your “real” work catches hold of you and writing has to take a back seat, but that’s OK.  You need the real world to intrude, because without it, how would you be able to write? Even the most mundane things can later spark off a story. How characters interact over a cup of tea, for example, or how while cleaning the car you found something under the passenger seat. Every single day is full of stories. Just start to write.
helena fairfax, freelance editor
My dog’s ideas generally involve the tin of treats. Or walks.
  • Be receptive to new things.  Being curious is something I’ve never struggled with. (My husband might say ‘nosy’ rather than ‘curious’ :) ) If someone asks if you’d like to go somewhere, say yes. A film you might not otherwise have seen, an art exhibition, a trip to the seaside. It doesn’t have to be somewhere exciting. I never get bored anywhere and can enjoy listening to conversations at a bus stop. (Is that nosy? :D) The whole world is there to be explored.
  • Steal from other people. David Bowie famously stole ideas like a magpie, but he used them to create something new and made them unique. I’ve taken a scene from a film, or a character from books I’ve read, and made a new story out of them. These characters gradually became my own.
  • If you’re stuck on something in a story, just before you go to sleep, ask your brain to help you out and dream the answer. This sounds quite random, but it has occasionally worked for me and is worth a try if all else fails!

And now for the book/s I’m working on. I never like to talk about works in progress, in case I put a jinx on it, but I’m writing a contemporary romance at the moment. I had the inspiration for it while visiting a shop for wedding dresses, and I’ve combined this idea with an idea I had while watching one of my favourite films, It’s a Wonderful Life. It will involve characters from my previous novel, Felicity at the Cross Hotel. I hope I can do them justice.

I’ve also just finished a short story for an anthology I’m putting  together with eight other members of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. The anthology will follow on from our first anthology, Miss Moonshine’s Emporium of Happy Endings.

Miss Moonshine is a character we came up with between us. Nine authors sharing ideas was a brilliant experience. Our next anthology will feature Miss Moonshine at Christmas. I didn’t have an idea at first, and so I just had to set to work to find one. I wanted to bring in characters from the previous story. A nativity is Christmassy, and so I have a nativity scene. And Miss Moonshine’s town of Haven Bridge is near the Yorkshire moors, and so I thought of a shepherd. And by pure chance, as I was checking some facts about sheep farming, I stumbled on this description of how to make a shepherd’s crook…which gave me a great idea!

As for ideas for future books, I have so many! Finding ideas isn’t my problem. Finding time to write them up is what I need to work on. I have a brilliant idea for the start of a novel, but no matter how much I ask my brain to work on filling in the rest, I still haven’t come up with the rest of the story. Yet.

How about you?  Are you creative, and if so, where do your ideas come from?  Do you ever struggle to find ideas, or do you have too many to flesh out?

I’m looking forward to finding out what ideas the other authors in the Round Robin are working on. Please check them out in the links below!


Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1EW
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
A.J. Maguire  http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobincourtright.com

15 thoughts on “Where do ideas come from? Creative inspiration (and how to find it)

  1. I do just end to sit down and write, but in my case the most dramatic cause of creative inspiration was when it seemed a character from BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER virtually popped out of thin air and demanded I complete her fictional tale, and that’s how the whole saga of DEAR MISS LANDAU got started. Still think Hollywood are idiots for missing that one…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The story of how Dear Miss Landau came about is amazing, James. That really did seem like divine – or at least other-worldly – inspiration. I hope Hollywood come to their senses :)
    Thanks very much for dropping in!


  3. An excellent post as always, Helena, describing it as it is for many of us. Your point that the internet allows us to be entertained (passively) is well made and it does eat away at dreaming time. anne stenhouse

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sure I used to spend a lot more time day-dreaming before I got a smart phone and the internet was just in my pocket. Having said that, a blog on the internet did provide the inspiration for my Miss Moonshine story. I’ve enjoyed this month’s topic. Thanks very much for dropping in, Anne!


  4. Great points on creative writing, Helena! Borrowing a character isn’t stealing, its an inspiration source–those ‘borrowed’ characters change in unique ways. That just sitting down and writing can be difficult, but you are right in your real world needs to come first or you cannot write at all.


    1. I like the idea of it being inspiration, Rhobin. I sometimes see artists use the word ‘homage’. I like that one too! :)
      Thanks very much for setting another great topic!


  5. So happy to hear we will be meeting Felicity again in a “feel-good” story! I find I go through seasons of ideas. I have a burst of ideas and make plans for so many projects. Then there are seasons when I feel like a lump of coal and have no ambition to even tax my brain thinking about stories and projects. At this point in time, I am in a frenzy trying to figure out how to manage 3 projects. That’s good, I guess. Enjoyed your blog post.
    JQ Rose

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I know that sensation of feeling like a lump of coal too well, JQ. I love your simile. Being in a frenzy is definitely far better! Wishing you all the very best with your projects. Thanks so much for dropping in, and for your great comment!


    1. I’ve found a combination of both works for me, Bob. I do come up with ideas when forced to sit and write, although my best lightbulb moments come when doing housework :)
      Wishing you all the best with your writing. Thanks for dropping in!


  7. Great post, Helena. I have struggled with the perfection thing, too. There’s a time for that, but it’s not when you’re writing that first rough draft. I now have a little stuffed dog, I call Scruffy who sits atop my computer or close at hand to remind myself to have fun. And of course, in reality, we never reach “perfection” with out works. There’s always something else you could add, tweak, or a comma to add or take out. LOL At some point, you decide it’s good enough and send it off. Looking forward to the Christmas book and your follow up on Felicity. I’ve shared. :)


    1. I love the idea of Scruffy the dog, Marsha. That’s inspired! Now I’m going to use something similar next time I work on my manuscript. This perfectionism is a complete time suck, but so hard to get out of.
      And you’re right, the book will never be perfect, anyway!
      Thanks so much for dropping in, and for sharing the post. Best wishes for your writing!


  8. Mine often come from problems I set myself. For example: ‘I know the Society of Authors *aren’t* expecting a novel inspired by the three weeks of foreign travel their award funded, but, if they were, what would it look like?’ (Answer: a modern-day Ruritanian adventure with ice dancing!)

    And, as of this week, ‘If I were going to write something that I could sell at a price point of £4 or under, so that buyers aren’t going to be dissuaded by the cheaper, and excellent, second-hand books around it, what could that be?’ (Answer: a little anthology of short stories inspired by the very unusual bookshop in question!)


  9. Hi Kathleen, Problems happen to me when I’ve backed myself into a corner, and the problem is unavoidable. I like the idea of setting them for yourself and being in control of it – especially if it leads to a Ruritanian adventure! Ruritania was the inspiration for my Montverrier in In the Mouth of the Wolf. You reminded me of another example of my ‘stealing’ ideas :)
    And your anthology of short stories sounds great! Have you written them already?
    Thanks for dropping in, and for your comment!


    1. I’ve got a couple down! I’m planning to do two or three per month, hoping that in about ten months’ time I’ll have created an anthology more or less painlessly.

      Stealing is a legitimate technique! One just has to make sure to do something new, or to do it really well, or, ideally, both ;-)

      Liked by 1 person

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