Where do you get your ideas?

It is a question asked commonly of writers, one which we all dread to hear. I know of at least two famous writers who claim to get theirs from a Wonderful Idea Shop in the High Street. I wish it were that simple, I really do.

For writers of all genres and styles, indeed for all creative types, ideas don’t just come when you sit down with pen and paper or brush and easel. No, they come in droves. All the time. The damn things never stop. Listen in to the mind of a regular person, and you would likely go mad. Listen to the mind of a writer, and you’d want to scratch your brain out of your skull with your fingertips. Through your ears. Whilst snorting your eyes out through your nose. It’s bad, believe me.

The hard part is not in getting the ideas, but catching them as they bullet through your conscious thoughts, and stuff them away to come back to later. Then being able to sift through all those collected ideas, and start collating complimentary ideas together to form plots and stories. It takes a lot of effort.

However, all writers tend to focus on their ideas while in certain places, usually personal to them. They are often odd places. Here are a few of mine:

The bus station.

I ride to my DDJ most days by bus. It takes about forty minutes, one change at Huddersfield bus station. (Useless trivia: it is actually called Springwood Bus Station, though if you were to ask any locals, most people wouldn’t know that. It’s just Huddersfield bus station.) Going to work, it is a fairly quick changeover, walking briskly the length of the concourse from one bus to the next. However, the home trip is blighted by not-so-regular-buses. On an evening, I can often find myself with twenty-five minutes to wait in there. So I sit, and I think. I watch the people go by, and a lot of my characters have appeared to me there. Simply people passing by, who I glimpse, become intrigued by. Perhaps snippets of conversation. An odd or intriguing look or mannerism. I note them down, often using my iPhone, and come back to my notes later.

The beauty of this is, most of the characterisation is my own imagination, sparked off by a simple sight or sound. It’s brilliant.

The toilet.

Strange, gross, disturbing. Yes. But I do a lot of thinking while s(h)itting on the loo. Let’s face it, what else do I have to occupy my mind? Squeezing a few turds out isn’t exactly stimulating stuff, now is it? The tiles are, well, tiles. There are only so many times you can read the full instructions and ingredients, in all seven languages, on the back of the shower gel and shampoo on the end of the bath before you start wanting to flush your own head down the loo. And unless something Really Exciting happens, like a spider scuttles out from under the towels and tries a figure of eight around your feet, or a member of your family, cross-legged and desperate for a pee, manages to burst in on you because you forgot to slide the bolt across, there’s not a lot else going on.

I find I tend to plot things better on the loo. I don’t take my phone or iPad in with me (unlike some people; I remember one friend frequently called me while she was on the loo. Most unsettling). So I can just sit, and think, and formulate the most recent scene I’ve been working on. The downside of this is being yanked from my thoughts when somebody starts hammering on the door because I’ve been in there half an hour or more. A second toilet is a must for families that include a writer.

In Bed

Once I’ve read emails, finished writing for the night, and moved from my desk or chair to my bed, I resort to a good book mostly. But sometimes, if something is bothering me, or not quite working out, I just lay down, close my eyes, and curl up with my left side down. This is where having only one ear is extremely useful. If I sleep with that ear down, I can’t hear a damn thing. I could sleep through the outbreak of World War III and wouldn’t notice. It was mainly because I felt the explosions that I woke up the night that Grosvenor Chemicals went up. Once my ear is to the pillow, that’s it. I’m gone.

But not quite.

You see, I’m still quite awake, slowly drifting off but not there yet. I’m running through ideas. I might be setting a scene, or focusing on a character or event. By leaving it hanging in my mind as I fall asleep, my subconscious mind gets to play with the ideas while I sleep. My dreams will sometimes (not always, but sometimes) bring me better ideas, or answer the question I’ve asked. More often than not, however, they are totally unrelated and leave me asking even more questions. But hey, they’re fun dreams!


That’s three of mine. Where do you get your ideas? Where do you settle down to think? Can you beat me for oddness?