The Journal: Where Do You Get Ideas?

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* If you did your homework
* Topic: Where Do You Get Ideas?
* Of Interest

Quotes of the Day

“Too many writers worry about the words. … It took me years to realize that only I knew if something was or was not incorrect. It was my story after all. No one else knew what was going to happen next, and no one else knew what I was trying to communicate. | I found that realization quite freeing. I could stop worrying about words and their cousin, grammar, and start focusing on the story.” Kristine Kathryn Rusch

“Your subconscious knows the right word for the story. … You just have to trust it.” Kristine Kathryn Rusch

“Writers who pay attention to the words are writing out of their critical voice. That’s the intellect, the parent, the one in charge of the rules. | Writers should be writing out of their creative voice, the one who likes to break the rules, get dirty, and play with things that might blow up. You know. Like the average two-year-old.” Kristine Kathryn Rusch

“[T]he critical voice is learning storytelling as a second language, and is, most of the time, caught up in finding the right word.” Kristine Kathryn Rusch

“[I]n reality, our ideas can come from almost any source at any time. Writers’ minds are in-tune with their surroundings ready to see the telltale signs of that little spark that could be used in a story or even become the basis of a whole book.” Joe Moore

“[T]he secret is not how to become a writer… …The secret is staying a writer. And staying a writer is hard.” Harlan Ellison

If you did your homework

you’ll recognize the first four Quotes of the Day. If not, I urge you to go read the post from which I pulled them, Kris Rusch’s “How Writers Fail (Part 6): Words” at

Yes, it’s important enough to bear repeating.

Topic: Where Do You Get Ideas?

Recently I was asked that question. I assume we all get it, at least if others know what we do for a profession or avocation.

“Where do you get ideas?” is probably tied for Most Prevalent Question with “Have you written anything I’d know?”

To that last one, I respond with a chuckling sneer and “Yeah, like you can actually read.”

Well, in my mind that’s what happens. In actuality, I have a couple of other responses. If time is in short supply, I respond out loud with a shrug and “How would I know?”

This probably seems dismissive, and that’s fine. Most people who ask that particular question are hoping you’ll say something stupid and self-deprecating like “Oh, probably not. ‘Cause you know, I’m not Stephen King or anything.” I’m not the self-deprecating sort, especially when it comes to false self-deprecation. I’d rather just stay on-point with honesty. Hence, “How would I know?”

If they seem honestly interested and do not appear to be laying the groundwork for an ambush — and if I have time — I say something like, “Maybe not. I write in the western, mystery, science fiction, science fantasy, thriller, and action-adventure genres. Regardless of genre, almost all of my stories are laden with psychological suspense and romance.

“Also, I write short stories and short story collections for those who enjoy a shorter reading experience and I write novels and novel series for those who enjoy a longer reading experience. So if you read in any of those genres or lengths, maybe you know my work. If not, you can always google my name.”

Then I smile and walk away. Unless we’re at a writers’ conference. Then I follow up with a smile. “And you?”

But back to the topic question: Where do you get ideas?

In the penultimate Quote of the Day, Joe Moore gives us an answer that is adequate and accurate. It also pretty much mimics my own take, as you’ll see later.

Harlan Ellison used to tell people he got ideas from “a little shop in Schenectady.” I’ve used that a few times too, mostly because I like the alliterative sound of it. Besides, just saying “Schenectady” aloud is great fun.

(See? There’s a story idea right there. The title would be “A Little Shop in Schenectady.” The genre could be anything. It could be a short story or it could be a novella or novel. And you can’t copyright a title, so go for it if you want.)

But in response to this particular person, I wrote, “Literally everywhere. A character pops into my head with a line of dialogue, a scene crosses my mind, I physically see a wild mustang galloping all-out across the plains, etc. etc. etc. A character with a problem in a setting, then trust (and write) whatever comes.”

So it’s your turn.

What is/are you favorite response(s) when someone ask where you get ideas? Feel free to slip into the snide or remain courteous and professional (or both). If you don’t have a go-to answer, this would be a great opportunity to make one up.

After all, you’re a writer.

Talk with you again later.

Of Interest

See “She Spied” at

See “Magic Box of Story Ideas and Character Creation” at

See “A Fun Harlan Story” at

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 880 words

Writing of Blackwell Ops 8 (tentative title, novel)

Day 19… 2117 words. Total words to date…… 41729

Total fiction words for July……… 0
Total fiction words for the year………… 45405
Total nonfiction words for July… 6190
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 100320
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 145725

Calendar Year 2022 Novels to Date…………………… 0
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 66
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. I’ve never said WITD is “the only way” to write, nor will I ever. However, as I am the only writer who advocates WITD both publicly and regularly, I will continue to do so, among other topics.

8 thoughts on “The Journal: Where Do You Get Ideas?”

  1. I think the critical part about words is to use the vocabulary of the character I’m channeling at the time – if he or she wouldn’t say something the way I wrote it, it niggles each time I read it, and eventually prompts me to listen more carefully to the character.

    I have a reasonably large vocabulary, but remove any parts that belong to a narrator (me) instead of the character.

    • Yes. I think what Kris was saying (and I agree fully) is writers should try to not be FOCUSED on the words and sentences. If they’re focused on that level, they aren’t letting Story happen.

  2. My favorite response to that question is “Everywhere”. Life provides a LOT of fodder for more books than I could ever write, even if I lived 100 lifetimes. LOL

  3. I was wondering if you’d use my question as a post and I see you have haha.
    I don’t get asked that question much personally but on the rare occasions I do I say books and TV/video games like I told you in the email.
    Usually they don’t bother asking further, whether that’s because my answer isn’t as exciting as they imagined or I genuinely satisfied their curiosity I don’t know.

    • When I’ve told some others what I told you and repeated in the post, they’ve said, “Oh come on. You’re a writer. You can make up something better than that.”

      • I find that some people (due to romanticizing writers I suspect) believe we struggle to find the right idea, just as they believe we struggle over every word. So when we tell them how it actually happens, they’re either disappointed or think we’re lying.

        People are strange creatures (grin).

        • Yep. As Dean used to say regularly, people have to make writing “work” — something over which we suffer and struggle to get it “just right” — in order to give it value. That’s why he, like I, usually tells readers, if asked, that he writes three drafts of every manuscript. What he doesn’t say is that the second “draft” is actually a mechanical spell check and the third is him applying changes that he agrees with from his first reader.

Comments are closed.