This has been a good year for writing. Thanks, in part, to the Cafe, I’ve written — and completed — more short stories this year than the past five years combined. And one of my new stories has been accepted for an upcoming anthology.
Yet, even with all this writing, I still have more stories to write. (There’s always another deadline.) Right now, I’m working on a short story for an anthology about djinn.
It’s a cliche that readers ask writers where they get their ideas. The question frustrates some writers and enrages others. (Personally, I don’t think anyone has ever asked me. Maybe they don’t think much about my ideas.)
You might think a writer has some direct line to the cosmic ether where imagination and creativity co-exist like smoke and light, in shades of color and formlessness. But the truth is much more mundane than that.
My Creativity Well, as I call it, is a bottomless reserve of ideas that is constantly replenished by my experiences. I hear a funny joke, I store it away. I see something heartbreaking, I hold onto it. I hear a beautiful sound (like cicadas on a summer evening or a child’s laugh), I keep it for later.
Writing a story is a bit like taking a test. I sit down at the computer and begin to regurgitate all my experiences pertinent to the story. Even if I’ve never been in a SoHo art gallery or a haunted mansion in the 1920s, I gather up my experiences (and research!) to make the scene as realistic as possible.
“But…” I hear you ask, “What about those crazy ideas that writers are always coming up with? Where do you get those?”
And to that, I would simply say, “Everywhere.”
Stories that may seem crazy to one person are just life to someone else. I’ve read stories of people living lives I couldn’t begin to imagine, but they are 100 percent real. Stories are all around us. So when I make up a story that seems crazy to you, it’s just an ordinary day at the office to me.
My world is filled with aliens, superheroes, sorcerers, monsters, and horrible creatures that have names too old to be remembered. I have probably forgotten more about alien conspiracy and Area 51 than most people will ever know. I’ve seen things that could — at best — be described as my mind playing tricks on me, but deep in my heart I know they were real.
So, when I write, I’m not really making up anything. My characters are facets of my family, friends, co-workers, and strangers I meet. Sure, I’m telling a story. But I’m not creating anything. I’m borrowing moments from throughout my life and stringing them together to make an interesting narrative.
And that, dear reader, is the truth about where writers get their ideas. We don’t create anything. We just remember the world in a different way.
Shameless plug: I write about creativity (where it comes from and how to nurture it) over at my blog, The Creativity Well. Since joining the Cafe, I post only occasionally over there. But you should stop by every now and then. You never know when I might add something.