There are times an idea for a piece will seem to come out of nowhere, and the writer will call it inspiration and thank his muse for blessing him on that day.
The rest of the time, we have to sit down and come up with something.
There’s as much work in the creation of ideas as there is in the writing. This is why brainstorming is an essential part of the process.
“But Mike, I get ideas all the time!” Hey, great. Good for you. But you won’t always work on your own ideas. There are several instances where a writer has to sit down and noodle up some ideas for specific tasks:
- Work-for-hire gigs. If a comics editor said “pitch me something with Doctor Obscuro in it,” I’m going to have to spend some time on Wikipedia and figure out who he’s talking about, then figure out what I can do with the guy.
- Themed anthologies. Take something broad like zombies. Sounds easy, right? If it is, then you just came up with a story that will be just like the rest of the bullshit in the slush pile. Throw that one out and think up something different.
- Pitch opportunities. When an agent says “Send me three or four simple pitches I can show around to some producers,” you best hurry your ass up and get it done. Waiting for inspiration to strike isn’t going to do you any favors.
- Collaborations. Doesn’t matter if it’s two guys working up a novella or someone on writing staff for a television show, you need to make your stuff gel with theirs. Also, that flash of inspiration you got anyway? It may get tossed in favor of something else.
- Contract. That kick-ass idea for a bank heist gone bad may be brilliant, but if you’re up against deadline for another commitment, it just got back-burnered.
And so on.
Even that flash of inspiration takes development. If I sell Werewolf Cheerleaders in Heat to the SyFy Channel*, I need to sit down and come up with characters, plot, dialog, and action. An idea is not a novel, or even a short story. An idea is a theme, a character, or a scene. It’s a catalyst, not a final product.
Everyone gets ideas. The only difference between a writer and any other slob is a writer follows through on his idea.
This is why “Where do you get your ideas?” is such a stupid question. “Jerking off in the shower” is as good an answer as any. If someone wants to know what inspires me, they should ask that question instead. Or they might ask “How do you develop your ideas?” Those are the answers someone can learn from, whether it’s insight into my diseased brain or advice on how they can develop their own ideas.
Generating ideas is part of the job.
*Now I’m tempted to actually make this happen.