I often get asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” Usually asked with the same tone and inflections as, “Where do you get your shoes?” Or its alternate, “How do you come up with your ideas?”
I’ve heard and read a lot of stock answers to these questions and also said them myself: I go for a walk, I people watch, I listen to music, etc. And then I realized that none of those actually answer the questions because they’re nearly impossible to answer.
For the first question: “Where do you get your ideas?” Well, it isn’t like there is an idea store I can go to and browse through the isles putting a box of character, a jar of setting, and a can of inciting incident into my cart. Where do I get them? Hell if I know. They get me. They find me. Somewhere, deep in my subconscious maybe there is a little me thinking all kinds of stuff up and sending it up the little vacuum chute (the kind banks have) and some of them stick in my gray matter and have enough merit to be thought about further by my conscious mind. “Where do I get them?” implies that I can just go grab them off the shelf somewhere, or that I have a garden full of idea plants and I just pick one when I need one.
The second question: “How do you come up with your ideas?” I often wonder, what do you mean how? How does anything happen? How do socks disappear in the laundry never to be seen again? I’m not usually trying to come up with ideas. In fact, new ideas usually take me quite by surprise. I will be focusing on a current project and BAM! New idea for new project suddenly unfolds. It just happens. I wasn’t planning for it. I wasn’t thinking, “I need another gallon of idea.”
Perhaps one of the ideas in the vacuum chute hit my gray matter just right. Perhaps there really is a muse and every now and then she sprinkles idea dust over me. Perhaps ideas are really bits of dark matter in the universe and every now and then they stick in peoples heads on the way through.
So if you ask me where I get my ideas, or how I come up with them, you will likely get a standard form answer that doesn’t really answer anything. It isn’t because I don’t like the question. I’m just as a loss as to how to properly answer it.