Granted, this is not new territory, but the question continues to get raised, by readers, and by writers looking for new story ideas. I can’t speak (write) for anyone else, so I’ll tell you how ideas sometimes come to me.
One place I go for ideas is that sweet spot between waking and sleeping. When I go to bed at night, I kind of play with that twilight zone before sleep, not quite awake, not quite asleep, seeing how wide I can stretch it. It is kind of like daydreaming, but much richer, crazier, none of the rules of reality get in the way. It’s like a kid asking, what if I could fly, or be invisible or jump inside of other people’s dreams? And I just let the ideas come, the wilder the better. Some I grab and tell myself. “I’m going to remember you.” Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, but it doesn’t matter. It is far more important to keep the ideas flowing then destroy the process by getting up and writing something down. How pedestrian can you get?
Other ideas come from daydreaming. I daydream all the time. I doubt my family has any idea how much. Except maybe my daughter, she is a master daydreamer too. It is likely most writers and artists are great daydreamers. A cloud floats by and it reminds you of a clown, which makes you think of the circus, which makes you think of all of mankind locked in a freak show without knowing it. And on it goes.
Maybe you’re sitting at a restaurant and you overhear two people talking. “What a great baritone voice that man has.” You think he could be a radio personality with that voice, but maybe that is just a cover and you create some spy scenario in your head. OK, I know, most of life is not all that interesting, but add just a drop of untamed imagination and it is never boring. I have no idea what it’s like not to have an overactive imagination, telling oneself stories all the time, inventing characters and scenarios. People without wild imaginations probably get a lot more stuff done.
Ideas come from nowhere too, and those are the best ones of all. I get up early, before anyone else, when the house is quite and I can write, not feel guilty that I should be helping with the millions of things that need to get done when you have a family. Many times, I have a blank page and no starting place. I know I need a new chapter, but have absolutely no idea what is supposed to come next. I don’t agonize over it, I just write. It starts out as pure shit, but I don’t stop, because I know what’s going to happen if I just trust the process. And pretty soon, my fingers kind of disconnect from my brain, and out comes…stuff. Pretty good stuff, sometimes even great stuff. Then I hear a soft peep out of the critical part of my mind, “hey what’s that, where did that come from, that’s not you, you can’t write like that.” But I give him a good gagging and let the process continue. Maybe it lasts a few minutes, maybe a few hours. And damn if it isn’t pretty good.
Where did it come from? I have no idea. Call it the muses, call it intuition, the subconscious, long buried memories, call it God. What difference does it make, but by all means don’t stop it. That is the most creative a human being can be. And it is way cool!