This time of year, I see a lot of friends and family that I might only see once or twice a year. More often than not, my writing comes up as a conversation piece, and when it does, that question we’ve all been asked gets asked:
“Where do you get your ideas?”
I know a lot of writers get offended by that question, but I don’t really see why. Sure, it’s a difficult question to answer, especially for those of us who have absolutely no idea where we get our ideas, but it’s not like it’s an intrusive or disrespectful thing to ask.
Anyhow, I’ve come to realize a thing or two about the “ideas” question. Really, if you dig deeper, nobody cares–or is really even asking–where your actual ideas come from. They know just as well as you do that your ideas come from the space between your ears.
What they are really asking is “What is your creative process like?” In other words: How do you create the stories that end up on the page?
It’s an interesting question to ask yourself as well.
What do you do, creatively speaking, in order to come up with a story, complete with a setting, a cast of characters, and a problem to solve?
I know the trendy writing phrase is “ass in chair” but that’s a really poor way to describe it. Writing itself has nothing to do with sitting in a chair. That’s how obesity gets started, not creativity. Writing is about life. Your ideas come from living, not from sitting in front of a computer staring at a blank screen.
Yes, it takes discipline (which is obviously what the “ass in chair” comment is all about), but discipline alone does not breed talent or creativity. Sitting down and forcing yourself to write simply for the sake of writing could be just as damaging to your creative process as sitting around waiting for a mystical muse to tap you on the shoulder and do the work for you.
Writing is work. And writing is hard. In fact, one could say that writing is hard work.
So what about the creative process?
You know, it’s different for everyone. Some author can just sit down and start typing away. Some like to plan out things in advance so that when they do begin the journey they know where they are going.
I’ll tell you what works for me: I daydream. And take long showers.
I know that sounds silly, but daydreaming is how I come up with some of the basic foundations of a story, mostly setting and main characters. As for when I daydream, well, here’s a little secret: I don’t have a smart phone.
That means I still have to figure out ways to entertain myself when doing things like sitting in at a red light, going to meetings, going to church, or standing in line. Joking aside, your brain is your best tool for coming up with ideas, so figure out times during the day when you can use it.
When I finally sit down to write then, I do what I can using the ideas I daydream about, but there always comes a time when I get stuck. Getting stuck sucks, and for me it’s usually a place where I’m not sure what should happen next to advance the plot. I’m not joking when I say I work out those details in the shower, of all places. Either there or in the moments before I fall asleep. Those are seriously the two best places for me to figure out some conflict to throw in or the next steps in the plot outline.
It might be lame, but it works for me.
So my advice to you, new and aspiring writers, is to take a long look at your day and figure out times when you’re feeling the most creative and take advantage of them and just THINK. It might mean putting away your phone when you’re sitting in the doctor’s office, or locking yourself in the shower for an extra five minutes to work out a story in your head.
But whatever it is you need to do to find your creativity, don’t waste it. And don’t forget to write down ever idea you come up with.
And feel free to leave a comment letting us know where you find your creativity.