Where Do Ideas Come From?

There is a turn of phrase that I often hear in writing circles: filling the well.

When you have been writing for a while and the ideas are running dry, it is time to immerse yourself in media and fill the idea well back up again.

This turn pf phrase nicely reflects my own experience as a beginning writer: I started writing when I had read so much that my mind felt like the ideas were brimming over. It also reflects the fundamental truth of all art, which is that we borrow other people’s ideas and expression of those ideas, putting our turn on those ideas to produce a unique work.

Having raw ideas is never enough – you have to live with those ideas, think about them, write them down and throw them away and write them down again. The first time you write anything it is going to be bad – there are different degrees of badness to be sure, but first drafts are usually barely readable let alone publishable*. Working over these ideas and the forms of words is essential.

Every author will come up with different ways to develop an idea, but on top of that we each have our own voice, our own writerly idioms and style. Style is another thing which takes time to develop. These two iterative processes are why ideas alone aren’t worth selling – it’s the expression of that idea, the work that is put in by the writer which is what the reader wants.

I shall summarise all of this with an equation:

Ideas = (Influences + Time) * Iteration + Voice

Where do your ideas come from?

[*] there are counter-examples to this – The Exorcist, for instance – but these counter-examples are also vanishingly rare and you cannot plan for them.

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