Writers can teach each other a lot, but not this.

As an author, I’m always happy to answer the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” I particularly like this question when it’s asked at one of my author appearances.

My ideas tend to come from a wide variety of sources, so this question often opens to the door to a great deal of anecdotal material that I can use to entertain an audience.

Oftentimes, a novel is a combination of ideas. The innocent comment of a friend, an incident in the news, a piece of personal history, and an unanswered question all woven together to form a story.


But when aspiring writers ask me where I get the ideas for my novels in hopes of finding ideas of their own, I can’t help but wonder:

Has any writer in ever asked this question of another writer, listened to the answer and thought, “Oh! That’s where ideas come from! Now I know exactly where to look!”

Of all the things that writers can teach each another, it seems to me that finding the ideas for stories is not one of them.

I can suggest reading a lot. Reading widely. Listening carefully. Keeping your eyes and mind open. Writing down anything interesting that you hear. Asking lots of questions. Talking to people.

But as for where ideas are actually found? The source for every novel, short story, magazine piece, blog post, poem, and essay is different. Each is unique. Never again repeatable.

I couldn't begin to imagine teaching someone where my ideas originate.

But then again, I am a writer who is fortunate enough to have no problem generating story ideas, so perhaps I am wrong. Maybe I am unable to see the forest through my own trees.

Maybe there is a good answer to that question, and I haven't found it yet.