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Where Do Ideas Come From?

Where Do Ideas Come From?

ideas and prompts mindset motivation Oct 18, 2023

All writers know that there is only one way to capture an idea. Most of them won't admit it, but this is something that has been passed down by generations of artists. If you are: bored, indeterminate, scared that your ideas are not good enough, you might want to try this.

First of all, you have to leave the house, far away to the countryside. Midway you stop and get rid of the car, also, you leave your shoes on the backseat. It’s very important that you are barefoot, so you can feel the grass under your skin all the way up to the hill. Up in the sky you will see a shooting star – don't make a wish, that’s for fools –. As hard as it might seem, grabbing a star is not as hard as what we’re going to do. So take a deep breath, and wait. And wait. And wait.

At midnight, you’ll hear it coming. Get your bottle out of your pocket, and throw it at the sky. As the star falls, you’ll hear a curse that breaks into the void. You’ll know you captured the genie right when you hear that cracking sound, as if something is broken, maybe your own ego. 




Once you capture your genie, it’s important that your face doesn't reflect your surprise. A sign of misbelief can make the genie disappear. That's what happens, actually, with all the magical creatures of our world. 

Now is the moment to get back home and pick a place where the bottle suits. A nice place. So the genie will know it is important for you. Maybe it’s on the shelf, between the books. Maybe it’s your bedside table. But as the days pass by, you will realize the genie won't talk. He is angry. Wouldn't you be if you were trapped inside a bottle? The genie takes a nap. You get mad. You want ideas, now!

The deadline is approaching. You get on your nerves. You lift the bottle in front of your face, and with a finger you tap, tap, tap. But the genie keeps sleeping, as a cat does in winter. It’s useless, another trip that is wasted. You sit on your computer, for a change. If ideas don't come to you, you will go searching for them.



The blank sheet

Does it ever scare you - the idea of everything?

A blank sheet is, in a way, everything. And it could be something, but most of the time, it ends up being nothing. Because the flickering line tends to scare us more than anything. Facing a blank sheet, a new project, something you haven't done before can make you paralyzed. That is normal. But you need to get some words, and fear, as the genie, might be useless at this point.



So try this: 

I used to have a teacher who said that blank sheets do not exist. The writer's block does not exist. – But how? If I experience it every morning, it must be real.

Well, yes, the feelings might be real. But there is no such a thing as lack of ideas. There is always something you want to write about, some idea that got lost in the way, something you left dusting in a drawer. There is always someone you want to write about, or a situation that keeps haunting you.

Those are the things you should try when the sheet scares you, as an initiation. This way, you clean your brain like you clean your house before the guests arrive. Once you start, it's easy to continue. Once your brain is empty and no fear left behind, then it's time to dive into more intrepid ideas.


The desire

But how to get an idea? How to discover what moves us so much we can’t stop writing? Most writers suffer not only the fear of a blank space, but also the boredom that comes after it's filled with something that doesn't appeal to us anymore.

You start a new story, and after a few tries, you leave it. Why? Because it bored you. Does it sound familiar? Why does this keep happening?

ALSO: Love, Hate, and Inner Sabotage

The theory is you are not writing something that is passionate enough for you to go through. 

So here is the antidote: follow your desire.

Something that is unique, that you are so intrigued about, something you may want to try –or not– in real life, but somehow is better safe for fiction. Desire, especially when not pursued, haunts us. It lingers in a way most things don't. Discover what you’re passionate about, what makes you jump of excitement, and you will have the theme of your new story.



Where do ideas come from?

There are a few beliefs, and you can pick the one you like. There has been a time when creativity was believed to be some kind of divinity force that operates through the artist. Art came from beings that were totally separate from the human form, beings that could whisper ideas into one's ear.

ALSO: How to Tap into Your Subconscious to Improve Your Writing

This form of creativity had a spiritual tint on it, but it didn't lack the discipline that we still search for today. I, personally, love this idea. But I find it very tricky, in terms of what we believe and what we use as an excuse to simply not write.

No, I'm sorry. I can't write today. The genie in the bottle didn't give me any ideas, but I´ll try again tomorrow, maybe he is in a better mood. 

Stephen King says that there is no such thing as an island of ideas. A place where the good ideas come from, this generational secret I've been talking about, simply does not exist. There is no place where the best-sellers hide. Ideas come from nowhere, as he said, but they don't come running to you with a supernatural force. Ideas are not inside us, but they are found by us. 

How? Most of the time, by paying attention.


The genie talks

You wake up, one day, with a voice in your head. It’s not quite clear what is happening, you believe you’re still inside a dream. But then something luminous happens, in your bedside table, something's shining. You’re not used to the genie talking, their voice is soft and grasp, almost like a whisper.

At the beginning, it sounds barely like an animal, or a foreign language you are not familiar with. But you, somehow, know what it says. It just doesn't make any sense. The genie says: 

I'm gonna tell you a secret, since you've been doing such great work. 

I'm gonna tell you how to capture an idea by its tail. 

But you may not like it. 


Capture an idea by its tail

Do the opposite of what you usually do. Read local news. Call a friend. Follow a lead, or a wish. Pull out the strings. Go for a walk. Leave the house. Do some chores. Make some tea. Listen to what your friends actually say. 

Dreams. Movies. Other books. Watching people on the street, what is different about them? What are they thinking? The conditional if. Ask questions like a child. Why is the sky blue? Why can it not be pink? What happens after death? And so on…

Ideas are everywhere, but the external world is so noisy that sometimes we don't listen to them.

Capturing an idea by its tail is difficult, and tricky, but as many things, it gets better with practice. Just look at the world as an unlimited source of ideas, have a notebook with you at all times, and be aware of your own curiosity and desires. 



The myth

Maybe all writers lied before. Maybe the genie in the bottle, that as we know does exist, is good for nothing. Maybe your specific genie is lame, or it came with flaws that you didn't ask for.

What about the muse? Maybe you could capture her instead? But for that you will have to get to the sea, and you don't live close to the sea. Maybe you should fall in love, and get someone to break your heart. That's the way most artists do it, right? 


The answer

All writers look for something to believe in. And some even find answers that suit them, some will tell you that ideas come from paranormal events and you should totally believe them. I do believe ideas are some kind of magic. But at the end of  the day, we are still humans trying to invocate that magic.

So the important thing is not whether the myths are real or not, what's important is that you create your own invocation spell so you can get as many ideas as you want, whenever you want. 

Now we should go and try to capture an idea by its tail, before it's too late. We could also keep the genie as a friend, or as a reminder, that we don't really need him. Though it might be sweet to ask what other secrets he hides. But the genie is going back to sleep (you will realize as time goes by, he is more of a cat than a genie itself). 

And you should probably get back to work, get the lights on and make some tea. The words will come to you if you call them properly.



Juliana Palermo
Written for The Plottery

Juliana Palermo lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She's 22 but hasn't learned how to do her taxes yet. She works as a freelance editor and book cover designer, but you will find her drinking coffee and daydreaming during working hours. She is currently writing her first fantasy novel.

If you need her, you can say her name three times in front of a mirror and she will appear with a cynical smile. But let me warn you, her jokes are not as funny as she promised, and if you invited her in, there's a chance she will never leave. 



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