Nudging the Muse
February 17, 2010

Writers generally hate being asked where they get their ideas. Neil Gaiman tackled the issue on his website (my favorite reply he used to give to the question is "From a little ideas shop in Bognor Regis"). In On Writing Stephen King quipped that he got his ideas from "a small, bloodthirsty elf who lives in a hole under my desk." Of course, if you can't afford trips to Bognor Regis and you feel the imprisonment of elves, however thirsty for blood they are, to be inhumane, you're likely forced to come up with more creative ways to speed the muse.King (after the elf admission) recommended asking "what if" questions for inspiration. Other authors scour the news for ideas, and look for simple stories they can then adapt and personalize. Some writers look to prompts for inspiration. I recently plucked Jack Heffron's The Writer's Idea Book off my shelf, a book given as a gift that I'd never opened before. Flipping through the pages, I found that Heffron's book is filled with over 400 prompts and exercises to get the ideas flowing. The exercises vary from things like, "Put a character in a place where he doesn't speak the native language" to "Write about a time you did something hurtful but did not feel guilty."Are these useful? To some, maybe, but my immediate reaction was to say, "Oh, right! THAT'S why I never opened this book before." But that's just me. Maybe you'll write a terrific story about an American girl in Venice who doesn't speak Italian and keeps pushing people into the canals without feeling bad about it.So how about you? What gets the ideas flowing when it comes to your writing? Is it "What if" questions? Watching the news? Pulling prompts from a book? A combination, or none of these?