Where to find ideas

Where do you get your ideas from? It’s probably one of the questions writers are asked the most. In truth, the answer is very complicated. 

Neil Gaiman gave a fantastic (and hilarious) answer to the question in an interview. There’s a clip of it here. How Creativity Works: Neil Gaiman on Where Ideas Come From – Brain Pickings The nub of his response confirms that idea gathering is a bit of quandary; complex, difficult to pin down, but that it probably happens in different ways for different people for different texts, although daydreaming could be a good place to start.  

I actually find it useful to think of ‘ideas’ when they arrive, as ‘potential ideas.’ It’s freeing and takes the pressure off, which is important because it’s rare that a brilliant idea appears fully formed in a creative person’s mind, ready to be written. I might have a character, a plot point, a title or a line or two… but really, it’s more about what you do with these snippets than how good the idea is itself. 

Let’s look at this in a bit more detail:

Imagine you’ve got your ‘idea gathering hat on, and you hear a TV presenter use the phrase ‘Aerodynamics of Biscuits’. 

Do you…?

a) Gloss over it. ‘TV is really going downhill these days.’

b) Disregard it; ‘It’ll never work as a children’s story.’

c) Write it down but later decide it won’t work. ‘Beside, it’s probably already been done.’ 

Or do you…?

d) Explore as many different angles as you can until you find an engaging hook?

Hopefully, you can see where I’m going with this. 

My debut picture book, Aerodynamics of Biscuit’ (illustrated by Sophia Touliatou, Maverick Books) started in exactly this way. And of course, I mean d).

I heard the title on TV, decided it would make an interesting idea to explore, and started to brainstorm possible starting points; 

‘What if… the biscuit were anthropomorphised and were in search of flying lessons?’

‘What if… some hungry, biscuit-loving children were testing biscuits?’

‘What if… a child’s biscuits were stolen in the middle of the night by mice on an important moon mission?

Ideas rarely appear shiny, golden and ready to be written. There is a certain amount of work to do on our behalf. So, it’s important to be:

  1. Open to ideas
  2. Creative with ideas 
  3. Flexible with ideas

If you’re new to idea-gathering it might take some training. But like, any skill, it can improve with practice and craft and effort.  Train yourself to keep your eyes and ears open and before you know it, you’ll find inspiration in literally everything you do and everywhere you go. You can even get family and friends on board! It’s quite common for my husband and children to say, ‘That’s a good story idea!’ or ‘That would be a good title’ in the middle of a conversation! 

A word of warning: Once you’ve nailed the skill of finding inspiration in anything and everything, don’t forget to find a recording system that works for you. 

When I was a teacher, I would use my hand to write notes on, but I could never read or remember them at the end of a long day! Now, I have a list of rainy day ideas in the Notes pages of my phone. I also have a Trello board, too, which I find very useful. 

So, keep your eyes and ears open and you’ll never run out inspiration, just as long as you’re prepared to put the time in, shaping your nugget of potential into something that works. 

Good luck finding and polishing story gold!

Clare is a children’s writer and primary school teacher from Devon. She writes fiction and non-fiction picture book texts – sometimes funny and sometimes lyrical. Her first book was published in 2015 and she currently has books in development with Little Tiger Press, Quarto, Andersen, Nosy Crow and MacMillan. She also writes for the Maverick Early Readers scheme. You can find out more about Clare on her website http://www.clarehelenwelsh.com and by following her on Twitter @ClareHelenWelsh

Clare is also our Writer in Residence for the Hub, and teaches our online Picture Book course.