"Where do you get your ideas?" It's the question that successful creatives get asked over and over and over again.
The author Neil Gaiman says that his ideas come from out of nowhere. “I make them up. Out of my head.”
The problem is, that’s not a very satisfying answer for the aspiring writer who want to know, “how can I find some million dollar ideas?”
Gaiman suggests asking yourself some questions, and following those questions down the rabbit hole. Personally I really like these prompts:
- What if…?
- If only…
- I wonder what…
- Wouldn’t it be interesting if…
- If this goes on…
- What if I engineered a tree that sprouted dollar bills?
- What if I woke up with wings?
- What if someone gave me the secret book that explained, in detail, the truth of all conspiracies and historical secrets - the truth about all religions, leaders, wars, and kingdoms?
- If only I could have a conversation with my great, great, great grandfather…
- I wonder what toys do when people aren’t around?
- Wouldn’t it be interesting if the global currency was a system of smiles and hugs?
- If this goes on, and humans finally replace ourselves with robots, then what’s in line to replace the robots?
In Gaiman's article, he says,
"You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we're doing it."
I found this quote very telling. And it goes back to my idea the importance of habits. Authors and creatives like Neil Gaiman have been developing ideas for so long that the process has become second nature.
They have the same amount of ideas as anyone, but they are more aware, more tuned into the process. They've got a notepad on them at all times, or (like one author I heard recently) they dictate speech into their phones while they're waiting around at the bus stop.
An idea can be a person or a place or an image, from which you start and begin to build. The single idea itself is only a jumping off point. When you combine one idea with another, then you're off to a good start. But the magic really happens in the development, the fleshing out of the idea - which is a process that takes work. It takes brainstorming, writing and re-writing, constantly turning the object over in your hands to view it from all sides. This is the point where the author gets their hands dirty.
To creatives, ideas are cherished, loved and nurtured. The nurturing and development is what turns those seeds into saplings, and those saplings into forests, into entire ecosystems and solar systems. Now the reader, or the listener, or the casual observer, can come inside to this new world and have a look around, play for a while, even connect emotionally and get involved and become changed themselves by the idea. And that's magic at it's finest.