Ideas, when you get right down to it, are bastards. Without them any artistic venture simply cannot get off the ground. Without an idea what do you write about? What do you paint? Not only do you have to start somewhere, but you’ve also got to actually go somewhere. Without an idea you’ll just end up sitting at your desk twiddling your thumbs and resisting the urge to trawl the sordid nether regions of the internet. But as I said ideas are bastards; they are things of whimsy and caprice. They’re not something that can just be summoned or called upon at a moments notice. Ideas aren’t something you can simply manufacture, trying to is equivalent to a blacksmith trying to hammer a sword out of the wind. A good proper idea is a rare gem, something forged in the bowels of the earth of countless millennia, something which you’ll have to shift a metric fuck-ton of shit just to get to.
Once you’ve found your gem though you’ve got to get down to the washing, the polishing, the cutting, then there’s putting it in the right setting. Having the idea is merely the beginning. A good idea is damn hard work to find and then damn hard work to make work properly. For every good idea you have to plough your way through hundreds of others ranging from the mediocre to the down right abysmal. The process of shaping an idea out of the raw chaos of thought is an arduous process and something which requires just as much time and effort as the business of actually writing.
Writing gets too much undeserved attention, you can read as many guides and take on-board as many tips for structure and pacing as you like but ideas are the real meat, they’re what gives a story its foundation, character and purpose. Of course actual writing is vitally important, it’s just redundant without ideas. A writer without ideas is a builder without bricks. The down side is that ideas, as previously mentioned, aren’t something you can easily call upon, there’s no idea wholesaler or concept depot you can visit. To top this off everyone things differently and processes information in ways that another would see as bizarre, mysterious and arcane. I can offer very little advice in the area of how to have ideas I just do what I do. Everyone has their own way of doing it. Some people sit down with a nice cup of tea, some people go for a walk, if I recall correctly St. Thomas Aquinas sat in a disused bread oven. I take a shower. When it comes to ideas I’ve always favoured something of a brute force approach, I think and mull things over until something bobs to the surface of the seething cauldron of thought that is my mind. The shower affords me this opportunity better than anywhere else. It’s quiet in its own way, there’s very little in the way of distraction. It’s a time when I truly have time to think, free from the trivial interferences of daily life. Most importantly of course, there’s very little better to do while showering.
Many people suggest that when hunting for ideas you should keep yourself free from distractions. Now this is something I don’t necessarily agree with. When it comes to writing it is probably true. But ideas are bastards, and not just in the sense of a derogatory slur. Ideas are so often born from the confluence of strange and disparate parents. Ideas require input. Although freeing yourself from distractions might give you time to think, it robs you of input. Finding the best way to find your ideas is a journey that every artist has to make, it’s something other can’t help you with, it’s something that has to be done alone. But once you find your “zone” stick to it, treasure it and never let it go.
I’m lucky, in that ideas come quite readily to me. I long ago automated and mechanised the mine of thought and readily delve into the depths in hunt of treasure. The only downside is that, in all honesty, I can’t write for shit.