Where Do Ideas Come From? 6 Tips on Finding Inspiration

It’s another month, and another of our authors’ Round Robins…

helena fairfax, freelance editor, fiction editor

This month our topic is set by author Fiona McGier:

Where do ideas come from?

Creative inspiration seems like a sort of magic, and one of the wonders of the human mind. It’s amazing to think how an idea or image in someone else’s brain can be translated into a book or film, and become ‘real’ to someone else.

I have no problem in general thinking up ideas – I just have a problem setting aside the time to write them up!

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

Which leads to…

Sit down and write

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. It’s like starting off on a run when you haven’t exercised in months. You can feel daunted as you take your first step, but gradually, you feel yourself getting fitter.

Take advantage of being bored

It’s easy to get distracted by phones and constant on-time, but being bored can lead to daydreaming and putting aside the screen can lead to a whole world of ideas opening up.

helena fairfax, freelance editor, yorkshire

One cold and rainy day a few years ago I was sitting on a grimy commuter train, my wet clothes steaming in the fug, thinking I would rather be anywhere else but here. The carriage was absolutely packed with pale, exhausted commuters, and I was on my way to my job in a factory, to face another day of deadlines, awkward customers and production disasters.

I began daydreaming about where I’d rather be instead. A sunny day in the south of France seemed like a lovely place, and my train of thought took me to Lyon, where I’d once worked as an au pair many years before. From there I started thinking about the silk industry in Lyon, and how much more glamorous I imagined it would be to work there than my own factory.

And so from this train of thought the whole of my first ever novel, The Silk Romance, was born. Every day from then on my commute became a blessing. I spent the time thinking about my hero and my gorgeous setting, and scribbling down my story in my notebook. Out of a boring commute, in the most unlikely place, a novel was born.

If you want writing to flow, don’t be a perfectionist

This is something I’ve struggled with. I’m not a naturally confident person, and in the past I’ve found lack of confidence a massive barrier to letting ideas flow. Are my ideas just too silly? Should I even bother trying to make a go of this story?

Now I genuinely think only of the characters in my story, and as soon as I start to think of them, they come alive and they are their own people. Thinking of them as real right from the start, rather than as imaginary beings in my head, helps give my ideas life and can set me down a completely different path than if I’d been worrying all the time if the idea is ‘right’ or ‘good enough’.

Being 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 I’d like to go somewhere, I generally say yes. It might be a film I wouldn’t have chosen myself, or an art exhibition, or a trip to the seaside. Of course with the lockdown going out is far more difficult. I have to say that I struggled with ideas during the first few months. One way to get round this is…

‘Stealing’ ideas from other people

David Bowie famously stole ideas like a magpie, but he used them to create something new and made them unique. In the past I’ve seen minor characters in films or books, and wondered what happened to them once the story is over? Where did they go? At first these are idle questions in my head (my nosiness again!) but new characters and whole new stories have come from wondering about a bit-player in someone else’s narrative.

Finding time to work on your ideas

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 I have another book to write first, and a short story, and other writers’ books to edit. I haven’t been able to let my mind mull over this idea yet, but who knows – next time I’m on a boring train journey, perhaps the rest of the story might come to me!

Are you a writer or an artist? Where do your ideas come from? Has a book or film ever sparked an idea for you?

And if you’d like to find out where the other authors in our Round Robin get their ideas from, please click on the links below…

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-2eA
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/

Marci Baun http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobincourtright.com

32 thoughts on “Where Do Ideas Come From? 6 Tips on Finding Inspiration

    1. Hi Anne, yes it’s strange how a seed starts growing, even when you’re not even thinking about it consciously. I’m still waiting for the solution/ending to the idea I had for the start of a book. It will come one day when I least expect it.
      Thanks for dropping in, and for your comment!


  1. I enjoyed your commute story! Inspiration comes at strange times and often leads to changing aspects of mundane to inspiration. Yes, I am both an artist (drawing-painting) and a writer! The aspects of writing as an art are somewhat different but lead to more visual wording.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rhobin, I would love to be an artist. If I had a choice, I would choose being able to paint over being able to write. There is something about being an artist that seems to me even more creative than writing.
      Thanks very much for organising this topic. I’ve enjoyed dropping in on everyone.


      1. I taught art for four years. You can do art. It is very much like writing. Start with an idea. Your research is drawing objects interesting to you. The more you draw, the better you become even if in an abstract way. Use colored pencils to begin adding color. Eventually, you can switch to drawing on paintable surfaces and then paint to the drawing. (Just one way!)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Rhobin, I’m sure you’re right, and if I practised and studied, perhaps I could produce something that wasn’t too bad :) It’s a confidence thing in large part that stops me having a go, because I was always told I wasn’t good at it, right from primary school. The lockdown has made me creative in lots of other ways, so I should use it to add drawing to a skill to learn. Thanks for the motivation and the tip!


  2. The biggest thing that slows my writing down is perfectionism. I’m well aware of this. I’m a member of a beta crit group and a team lead. It’s me and 4 guys. All of them write science fiction. Me? I write a variety of stories, but all of them have some form of love story or are pure romance. A few weeks ago, I submitted the current story I am working on (a straight shifter romance). They liked the writing, but at least one of them couldn’t connect to my characters. Even though I’ve figured out what is the reason (all of my other character have had much higher stakes, e.g., life and death), this has stalled my writing process. However, now I’m on a mission. I’m challenging myself to get them to connect to the characters while maintaining the whole shifter romance genre. Another part of me says, “Eh, they’re not your audience.” So, we’ll see what I actually come up with. :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Marci, I can so identify with this sort of thing stalling your process. Sometimes all you can do is throw yourself back into the writing. By sitting down and just writing, it’s surprising how the ideas start to take shape. I do hope you resolve this problem, and I love how you are on a mission. All successful writers are determined. Wishing you best of luck with it, and thanks for your great comment.


  3. Hey, Helena. Lovely post and I really enjoyed the story of you on the train. It led to your delightful novel, The Silk Romance. I tend to find inspiration in places. Like the grand house I drove by several times a week. when it was decorated for Christmas, I was hooked. It became the setting for my second book, Truth Be Told. As I drove by I wondered who lived there? What did they do? Did they have family? Who were they? Wondering is a great activity. Thanks for your post. I shared. :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Marsha, I dropped in on Anne Stenhouse’s blog, and she too finds inspiration in buildings. That’s something I hadn’t considered, but I totally empathise with the questions. The questions are the sort of thing I ask myself, along with ‘what if…?’ I’ve thought my way out of a few plot holes or dead ends by asking this type of question.
      Thanks very much for dropping in, and for your great comment!


  4. I’m an English teacher with my emphasis in the teaching of writing. Over the years, I’ve come up with the perfect counter to the terror of a blank white page. I tell the students, “Barf it out quickly, clean it up later.” It always makes them laugh, but it’s true! If you bother about grammar, or is this interesting, or the thousand other questions we torture ourselves with, you’ll never write anything. So just sit and go with whatever idea you have, and keep at it. Ignore conventions and anything that might distract you.

    The editor’s job can be done by anyone with a modicum of training. I can help students clean up their writing. But I can’t reach into their ears, ala Harry Potter’s “pensieve” and PULL the ideas out of their heads. They have to do that part themselves–by barfing it out quickly. Over the years, the editing is the part I’ve come to enjoy the most–funny, because I used to despise it, thinking that every word I wrote was one of my children, and how dare you want me to edit them out? But I think my writing has improved greatly because of the attention to detail that I apply to my writing LONG AFTER it’s been barfed out!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fiona, I love what you say about the editor’s job. When I first started out in writing, I thought it was very important to have everything just so, to choose exactly the right phrase, etc., etc. In fact, the story is everything. Who cares about the right phrase, or a beautiful metaphor, if your characters aren’t people the reader cares about and the idea is a cliche? The writing is important, too, of course, but the idea and the story come first. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I’ve really enjoyed hearing what other authors have to say.


  5. Trains, planes, and automobiles! I guess there’s not much else to do but think during those long trips. I like your six points, very succint, Helena.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You have so many perfect points in your blog post! Perfectionism is the death of new writers. Constantly going over the same material to make it perfect lowers confidence. I vowed when I was 12 I would give up being a perfectionist, and yet…it pops up when I am writing. I believe most of my story ideas develop from the crazy news stories in the media. If the true stories were in a film, we’d say it had to be fiction, but no, those nutty stories are great fodder for scenes or an entire book!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. JQ, you’re so right about the crazy news stories. The opening I mentioned – that I’d love to fill out one day – came from reading an old newspaper story. If I wrote it as fiction, people would struggle to believe it was true.
      I still struggle with wanting to get every phrase perfect before I move on. It’s the kiss of death to productivity. Sometimes I try and fight it, but nowadays I just accept that’s how I am and I’ll have to go at a slower pace.
      Thanks for dropping in, and for your great comment!


  7. In my case, I start writing and stuff happens (usually global destruction and nuclear war, what a happy little person I am…), but in one historic case I was sitting in a train heading for the West Highlands, started writing a piece of illegal fan-fiction re BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER for fun…

    And it was as if Drusilla the vampire from BUFFY grabbed desperately onto me and demanded I write her story!

    The train was neither packed, grimy nor steamy. In fact it was fair to say the only steam was the stuff coming out of my ears, but I wrote like a maniac (note previous references to nuclear war and global destruction) all the way there and back again, worked on flat out for two months in my Glasgow flat and finally sent the finished article to the actress who portrayed said vampire (by then my fictional flatmate) in Hollywood.

    It blew her away, out of that came DEAR MISS LANDAU, and the rest was history.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s made me laugh out loud, James! I’ve always imagined my stories after several glasses of wine would be drivel, but next time I’m struggling I’ll have a bottle to hand – right from getting up in the morning :D
      And that’s interesting that your story started on a train, too. I much prefer train journeys to travelling by car, for all sorts of reasons, but that’s three mentions here of books that started on a train, including JK Rowling. How many people dream up a story while going down the M1? I’d be interested to know. I suspect not many.
      Thanks very much for dropping in, and for your entertaining comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. See, Helena, maybe that’s because you don’t LOVE driving as much as I do? I actually began the story of my first Minnesota Romance while driving my truck, pulling our camper, home from Grand Marais. I was so sad about leaving because I love it up there so much, that I had tears in my eyes and had to keep blinking. Then I thought, “But if I fell in love with a local, I would have a reason to move up here permanently!” The the hero, Raul, started whispering in my head, and I “wrote” probably the first couple of chapters in my head before we stopped for lunch.

    I love to drive so much our kids tease us that I’m the alpha in the family, despite being a foot shorter than my husband. He likes to look out the window, take pictures, read a book, or nap in the car. All I want to do is drive! 12-hours up to Grand Marais? No problem–when do we start? LOL.

    And when I get to drive somewhere by myself, like to visit a friend in TN, I usually work on whatever WIP I’ve got going, while I drive on the highway. And for the record, I haven’t had even so much as a speeding ticket since they raised the limit from the ridiculous 55MPH, up to 65 or 70MPH.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great Post. So many important points. I like the idea (or plan) best to set down with an idea and just write. Write. Write. Write. It may be garbage, but it’s also likely the writer will hit on something and the ideas will start flowing and the gem of a novel or even a short story will present itself. If we all di this, there would be far less writer’s block. I think the same thing applies when one gets “stuck.” Sit down an write. You may toss part of it, but probably an idea or two has surfaced. Again. Great pot.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Judy, I’ve often come up with a new idea, or a much better direction to the story, only after I’ve started writing. Once I’ve started writing, the characters begin to come alive, but before I put pen to paper, they’re just ideas. It’s easy to feel scared that you won’t be able to give those ideas life, and this is often what causes me to procrastinate, but the only way to get past that is just to start writing.
      I’ve enjoyed this month’s topic again. Thanks for dropping in, and for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

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