Where do ideas come from?

A tricky question. I don’t believe there is any one place where ideas are made, like some vast creativity factory churning them out then shipping them across the ether to eagerly awaiting minds. Ideas come from many places, and at many times. I recently saw the excellent BBC2 series Wonders of The Solar System and realized that ideas sometimes form like star stuff, gradually coalescing around a central idea, what I often refer to as a ‘concept’.

We might have the bare bones of an idea, just a basic premise or situation that strikes us with enough force that our attention is grabbed. Something we love, or hate. Something which stirs the emotions. Maybe it scares us. Something we feel so strongly about that we want to tell others about our point of view on it. Then after that, other things come, floating along, that may or may not attach themselves to it. We join up the ideas. Eventually we prod and test the idea. Is it sound, is it really that interesting or was I carried away with myself and the moment I thought of it?

To see any of this we need to be watching, observant. Receptive. If we are on broadcast mode all day I think it’s hard to be a writer. We have to listen first. To what’s going on in the world. To people around us. To ourselves and our stream of thoughts. The most important thing of all is to write things down. Don’t think, “Great idea, one day I will write something about that”. Write it down now. Capture it, before it drifts away like smoke. Even if it makes no sense now, it may in time. I scribble things on notepaper, the backs of receipts, my phone memo, anywhere I can record it. The more you listen to these thoughts, the more your mind will open up and grace you with the good stuff.

But how do we actively tune into the Ideas Channel to work with these thoughts? What works for me might not work for other writers. But the starting point for my creative state is an absent neglect of the real world, I tune out and listen to the inner voice which from practice I know is there. If you can’t hear it yet, try something to encourage the silence which will allow you to. Meditation, walking. As I was writing this post I noticed a blog from author Katie Hickman advocating both these things.

I also find music a fantastic way to break the boundary of the real. Evocative music creates soundscapes and pictures in my mind, it’s like inducing a trance. Sigur Ros, classics, film scores. The less lyrics the better. The language of music is magical, and creates words of its own. I have favourites that I listen to, recreating the same mood as when I last wrote. Sometimes I change them to encourage a different vibe. My favourite right now is Sigur Ros.

As adults we tend to get used to thinking in a particular way, as the real world teaches us what is and is not possible. Concrete, logical thinking, rather than abstract. I often wonder if writers are sustaining the imagination and boundless curiosity of childhood, where we learn by play and test driving our mind in different ways. Maybe a lot of people forget that open-sky-limitless-possibility way of thinking. But we can encourage it to come back. You can train your mind by listening. Then play with these new thoughts, see what you can do with them, how you can put them together.

See where they take you.

About Scott Foley

Scott Foley is a British fantasy writer based in Manchester. He is author of Knight of Aslath and the Dreaming God Chronicle. Brought up on a steady diet of Tolkien, roleplaying games and a never-ending fascination with the question ‘what if?’, writing fantasy novels seemed the only sensible and worthwhile thing to do with his life. Knight of Aslath is his first novel, and he is currently working on the sequel Warlords of the Dreaming God. Both novels form the beginning of the Dreaming God Chronicle and are set in the fantasy world of Teth-Kiran. Knight of Aslath is available on Amazon, and you can find out more about Scott's work at: http://www.scottfoleybooks.com