Where do you get your ideas?

This is a question that authors get asked a lot. I’ve thought about my own creative process before and produced unsatisfactory answers like, “They just come to me,” “When I’m in the shower,” or “I dreamed up my second book. Seriously, it literally came to me in a dream.”

But today an idea popped into my head as I was making my lunch. So that just proves that I have ideas because I’m hungry. No wait, that’s not it. This idea was about having ideas. And what I realized was that ideas come from reading a lot of non-fiction, be it news articles, books, scientific studies or bathroom graffiti:

graffiti

Thought-provoking bathroom graffiti.

Here’s why non-fiction can provide the inspiration for fiction: it’s because the human brain is wired to make connections and produce those sought-after eureka moments. That’s why human beings are so successful; our evolutionary advantage is that we can create solutions to problems. Of course “divine inspiration” is the non-scientific explanation for this phenomenon…

Even invertebrate animals come up with ideas based on their surroundings, so people definitely can (even those who lack backbones). The key thing is the fuel. Reading fiction might produce ideas – and it’s definitely important to read a wide range of fiction to learn about craft and style – but it’s all-to-easy to consciously or subconsciously fall in love with another author’s idea and simply reproduce it with a twist. Truly original creation comes from the juxtaposition of unrelated information that sparks something new.

Reading extensively is essential for any author, whatever their level of experience, but I would argue that while immersion in the very best fiction can provide stylistic inspiration, unique ideas are sparked by non-fiction. Maybe even by blog posts…

Photo credit: Chris Blakeley / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

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