FAQ: Where do you get your ideas?
Every Friday I answer questions from readers and followers. Got a question for Lauren Layne? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with FAQ FRIDAY in the subject!
Where do you get your ideas?
I've actually answered this one a handful of times in the past, I'm sure I'll answer it again, but because I've noticed a recent uptick in this question lately in my Instagram inbox and emails, not to mention small talk while out and about in NYC, now feels like a good time for a refresher on the topic.
I have no idea where I get my ideas.
They're always just sort of there. Except when they're not there.
Or rather, it feels like ideas are always there, but my ability to seethem is not. I think Elizabeth Gilbert was onto something in her book Big Magic (highly recommended reading, by the way!), when she says that there's something a bit magical about the whole creative process. Or at least, it certainly feels that way!
Some days/weeks/months I feel completely surrounded with ideas, almost as though they're all around me, bombarding me until I write them down. Other times, I feel like I'm in an idea vacuum, where I can't see or hear any ideas. The silence is both deafening, and occasionally lovely. Sometimes I actually like when the idea flow is turned off in my head so that I can act on the ideas that I already have.
If you're someone who deals in ideas, whether it's writing, another creative endeavor, business ideas, etc, here's some advice:
(1) If it feels like a good idea, write it down. I used to think that if an idea was good enough, or strong enough, it'd come back around. I'm not so sure! Sometimes there's an idea that pesters my mind and won't let go, but I'm also pretty sure I've lost some fantastic 3am ideas to the "I'll definitely remember it in the morning" delusion. Keep a notebook and pen by your bed (or your phone, if that's your thing).
(2) Don't get frustrated if you don't have "ideas." You do have ideas. Everyone does! It's just that sometimes they aren't there when we want them to be. It would be lovely if every time we wanted a new idea, we could just sit down with a pen and paper be flooded with possibilities. That's not always. JK Rowling got her idea for Harry Potter while sitting on a train. I've gotten a lot of my best ideas while on the treadmill or in the shower. Strangely, some of my ideas come while watching an old episode of Star Trek (TNG, Voyager, DS9, tkae your pit), even if the idea itself doesn't feel at all related to whatever I'm watching. Rather than approaching it as, "I'm gonig to think of an idea now," try doing something else entirely. Like many good things in life, ideas come when we're not looking for them.
(3) Don't obsess over unique ideas. Very few ideas are unique, and just because it’s already been “done” doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done by you, your way. This is especially true in romance, where we actually have a name for recurring ideas/themes: tropes: marriage of convenience, enemies-to-lovers, friends-to-lovers, secret baby, boss romance, etc. Nearly all romances are built on these tropes, and yet we authors and readers keep revisiting them. What romance haters describe as formulaic, we romance-informed know that they’re familiar, and sometimes we want the comfort of familiar. Of course, I am not suggesting you deliberately copy someone else’s idea! But if there's an idea that won't let go, but it feels "done," write it anyway! Never discount the freshness you can bring to a "done" idea (say, two best friends falling in love) simply by telling it your way.
(4) Don't put too much emphasis on the idea. Tough love time: I've encountered dozens of people who've told me their "great" idea for a book. Others claim that they're writers, or want to be a writer, or could be a writer, if only they had a good idea. 99% of these people, both the idea-idealizers and the so-called-writers-without-a-good-idea haven't written a single word. If you're an aspiring writer, I know this isn’t what you want to hear, but … The idea is the easy part. You want to hear that once you have THE idea, the writing will be easy and amazing. Nope. Ideas don't make writers. Writing the ideas does.