How to Get Ideas


I read this a while ago on Neil Gaiman’s blog:

Every published writer has had it - the people who come up to you and tell you that they’ve Got An Idea. And boy, is it a Doozy. It’s such a Doozy that they want to Cut You In On It. The proposal is always the same - they’ll tell you the Idea (the hard bit), you write it down and turn it into a novel (the easy bit), the two of you can split the money fifty-fifty.

I’m reasonably gracious with these people. I tell them, truly, that I have far too many ideas for things as it is, and far too little time. And I wish them the best of luck.

The Ideas aren’t the hard bit. They’re a small component of the whole. Creating believable people who do more or less what you tell them to is much harder. And hardest by far is the process of simply sitting down and putting one word after another to construct whatever it is you’re trying to build: making it interesting, making it new.

I now fully grok what he meant.

A while ago, I made it a habit to not trust my mind with any thought. Instead, whenever I have a thought that seems almost remotely interesting, I open up the nearest notetaking source (I like nvALT), give my thought a specific and easily searchable title, and then write it down.

I cannot overstate how many good, even actionable thoughts ordinary people have on a daily basis. The difference between writers (and more generally idea people) and the rest of humanity is that writers actually write them down.

Step one of that is not trusting your memory. Human minds are great at coming up with original thinking one time and terrible at reproducing the same thoughts. Words on a page are useless at thinking but great at recording thoughts. A match made in heaven (or at least by some clever cavemen).

So whenever you have any thought that seems even mildly interesting, write it down immediately. I jot them down in a note taking app on my phone and computer, but if neither is available I just write them down on paper.

I do recommend transcribing them on a computer at some point. Add a tag phrase to your notes to make them easily searchable. I use ‘@idea’ at the top of the note, but feel free to use whatever works. Hell, ‘@lookatme’ is fine, so long as you actually look at it.

Review these thoughts regularly and I’m sure you’ll find you have too many ideas and not enough time.

If inspiration is still not forthcoming, email me and I have no end of ideas that I’d love to see made real.

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