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Writing Tips - Where do you get your ideas?

Updated on November 8, 2016
Docmo profile image

Mohan is a family physician, film and TV aficionado, a keen bibliophile and an eclectic scribbler.

The Monster in my Head

One of the frequent questions every writer (amateur or professional) gets asked by others is ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’

Tempted as I am to say ‘ e-bay ’, ‘ or 'a shop downtown run by an old man who looks like Noah ’, ‘ my own private muse, she lives off the coast of Mykonos’ ( hey, how is that for a story idea?), ' This machine my daddy gave me when I was six, but I can only keep in my attic where it is dark ' ....

... the truth is it comes from my overactive imagination, the insatiable monster in my head.

But overactive imagination, like overactive children, needs feeding. It needs a lot of energy and raw material. I am not just talking out caffeine and carbs. I am talking about creative raw material to feed your imagination. So where can we source this energy .. Let me tell you how I feed my monster!

But overactive imagination, like overactive children, needs feeding. It needs a lot of energy and raw material. I am not just talking out caffeine and carbs. I am talking about creative raw material to feed your imagination

How do Creators Create Ideas?

I have tried to break down not only my creative process but the process of many writers I know and admire. I do this from their interviews, from their own biographies, from their interviews and prefaces. Their acknowledgement pages often tell you their research and collaborators. Their personalities and their behaviours shine from their talks and interactions with their readers and general public.

I have gleaned that there are some common patterns and common traits exist amongst creators. The way they generate ideas is not just some Eureka moment like people would like you to imagine. It is a work that requires certain basic traits, certain qualities and combined with certain behaviours that make them source new ideas.

It is how inspiration strikes.

Inspiration strikes..
Inspiration strikes..

The Bolt of Lightning!

People use lightning bolt striking as a metaphor for instant inspiration. Let us take this as an analogy for the process of generating ideas to write.

A lightning bolt may be instantaneous and powerful. When you look at how long it takes for lightning to form you know it is not just a sudden process. It takes hours of cloud building from evaporation and condensation from many water sources, interaction with other clouds, coalescing, building up to the right level of ice particles and water droplets to get polarised, building up enough charge and then BANG!

So how does this relate to creating new ideas for writing? I think most writers unconsciously do the act of sourcing snippets of information, storing them in their thought clouds, They let these gestate and source even more snippets through reading, websurfing, listening, observing. They allow these to coalesce and combine by the process of collecting, hoarding and letting these snippets of information particles interact in their mind. When these pieces of mini-ideas and particles combine, build up enough charge and are heavy with rain - bingo inspiration strikes. I don't think without the process of collecting, coalescing and interacting there is pure thought that arises from a virgin brain devoid of any influences and inspiration.

I think most writers unconsciously do the act of sourcing snippets of information, storing them in their thought clouds, They let these gestate and source even more snippets through reading, websurfing, listening, observing. They allow these to coalesce and combine


The first rule of writing, is to read. This is not necessarily to soak up new plots but reading expands our power of observation. We become narrative magnets when we read. And reading just our favoured genre is a straitjacket we should avoid. If you read any genre, whether it is horror, sci-fi, romance or mystery- good authors seek influences outside the confines of what has gone before in their own genre. They read widely and voraciously. They read classics, pulp, children’s books, fairy tales, graphic novels and even non-fiction. These at as a great source of inspiration and learning.

Cast your net wider...
Cast your net wider...

Widen your Spectrum

One of the best and worst things that has happened to reading is the compartmentalisation of genre. You walk into a book shop and there is a segregation of narratives. There is Biography, General fiction, Crime, Romance, Children’s literature, Mystery, Sci-fi , Fantasy, Science, History and so on.

While it makes it easy for us to search, seek and source a book through these categorisation, it also stops us sometimes from seeking out new genres that we make assumptions of. A lot of my friends think science fiction is all about space ships and aliens. That Fantasy is only about sword and sorcery. They think horror is always gory.

When Bram Stoker wrote Dracula and Mary Shelley did Frankenstein were published and were read by general audience. When Charles Dickens' wrote A Tale of Two Cities, a historical novel,bookshops didn’t worry about which shelf to put it in. When HG Wells published The Time Machine and Jules Verne wrote Journey to the centre of the Earth there was no sci-fi section. When Edgar Allan Poe wrote the Murders at Rue Morgue no one categorised that as detective fiction it was just another story to be enjoyed When Charlotte Brontëwrote Jane Eyre it wasn't just classed as a dippy romance, it was a story to be enjoyed by both genders and so they did.

There are so many good writers buried under the tyranny of this genre fixation they don’t get read by a wider audience and equally there may be many budding writers among us who want to write in a particular genre and read that alone- good authors read indiscriminately. We need to find good writing anywhere and learn from it irrespective of genre. Magazines, articles, novels, other media like film and TV and now internet resources there is a massive world of narratives out there and we can dive in and enjoy.

And more importantly... learn from.



The power of observation is important for a growing writer. There is a lot of people who watch and very few observe. An observer not only takes in the scene- they observe little details and store them for future use. They develop uncanny skills almost akin to what Sherlock Holmes does. Our eyes, ears, noses, taste buds and our skin take in Terrabytes worth of data every day. This doesn’t get processed and remembered unless we observe.

Good writers observe how something tastes, smells , looks and feels and store it for later use.

A writer may observe the way people stand, talk, gesture, move, dress those unique character ‘tics’ and eccentricities that we can use. They take in scenery and the hubbub of civilisation.

( Just be careful crossing the road or driving as this observing lark may also cause accidents!)

The power of observation is important for a growing writer. There is a lot of people who watch and very few observe...



I am paying special attention to Listening skills as I feel we don't often develop this enough.

You just have to read some dialogue people churn out to know that they are not listening to ‘real people’. It often comes across stilted, artificial and overblown – this is because we don’t often listen enough to real life conversation but listen with an intent to replicate. There are masters of dialogue writing that I adore such as Ed McBain, Stephen King, in the print, Aaron Sorkin and Quentin Tarantino for TV and film and their script shows they listen, reuse and emblellish appropriately.

So talk less and listen more. It will not only help your writing but may have the extra benefit of aiding your relationships!

A 'Commonplace'  Book - Diary of snippets and ideas
A 'Commonplace' Book - Diary of snippets and ideas

Steven Johnson's Great talk on where ideas come from - skip past the rather grating introduction and the empty chairs for sheer brilliance!

Collect, Compile and Coalesce

I am a collector, I hoard. I collect books and I hate throwing anything away. In real life this causes practicalities of space and difficulties when I move. But I realised soon that I also do this in my head. I never throw anything away. I retain information, infinite little trivia and memories for me to dip into.

If I am writing about rain, I bring out a thousand rain soaked days I have lived through and watch them again in my minds video player. I watch the way raindrops fall, the way people run in, or walk free or cower or dash under a canopy, the way the drops glide and glisten, the noise the raindrops make.. a million details that I can use in my writing. Ideas can collect in your head and they don’t need to be thrown away. Your brain has millions of terabytes of storage- use it!

You can also have a diary of ideas, snippets a kind of scarp book either in written format or digitally. This can store those little pieces of information that sparked something that wasn't quite complete. The sparks need stoking and collecting or else they blow away and dissipate

Steven Johnson in his new book 'Where Good ideas come from' writes about how even great discoveries that seem sudden originate from 'common place' books people like Darwin have kept with snippets of ideas, thoughts and information gleaned from wide and various readings for years before the idea colaesces.

Question everything...
Question everything...

Question Everything

We are always told not to make things up, not to be silly and to be ‘logical’ when we grow up. We don’t realise how many creative ideas have been stunted by this ‘grown up’ advise. As children we have the innate ability to conjure up ideas every day. We delight in the magical, the mysterious, the humorous and downright crazy ideas that pop up in our head.

Some of the best writers retain this ability despite ‘grown up’ advice. I always have the Why , the What if, the How, What else and Why not that I asked as a child even now.

The beauty of such questions is that they allow to expand our process of idea generation and creativity. They slip away from the rigid gulag of the organisational left brain into the creative cloud space of the right brain.

Create Constantly

Any idea worth having is just that, an idea. To turn it into a plot (or a piece of writing) and drive the plot using believable characters, story line and events needs work. You need to use that idea as someone else may be already using it. So sit down and write. Doesn't matter if the idea works, the simple act of creating one word after another gives you impetus and inspiration and more importantly, practice.

Write freely and indiscriminately as it is a craft. Online fora are a great desk space to create widely and frequently to hone the art of writing. It is a skill and skills improve with repetition and enterprise, by writing, reviewing what we wrote, by seeking feedback and seeing what works and what doesn't.

An Example of my Process

I have always been interested in the para-normal and Psychic powers both in stories and in science. I have read many stories about telepathy and telekinesis. I have read science articles both for and against this school of thinking.I have watched X-files and Fringe and Heroes and enjoyed how different creators have taken on this subject. I have also got on my PC snippets of information from science magazines, newspaper articles, books I've read, little sparks of ideas. I always wanted to do something new, like combine two genres - the pulpy , James Bondian thrillers with this alternate world of the paranormal. But I wanted to anchor it in a 'semi- realistic' premise not outright sci-fi or fantasy.

I was recently putting petrol ( Gasoline for those over the pond!) into my car and was looking at the counter rolling and the price of petrol. I was muttering in my head how much the price has gone up over the past few years. I thought it wouldn’t be long before it becomes unaffordable and we run out of fossil fuel. So far nothing exciting.

Then I had my crazy right brain kick in with, what if we found a source of locomotion in an another force.. a psychic force... what if there was a way of using as yet undiscovered source of mind energy... What if there is an organisation researching into alternate enrrgy sources.

Then I began to get excited. I am glad that the petrol pump gives you a kick to say it is nearly full otherwise I'd have soaked my shoes. I began to think about my James Bondian, slightly pulpy hero and brought him into this world of alternate energies, a sceptic, wise cracking, guy lost in this world of paranormal but has to race against time to find something...

I am not going to tell you anymore in case you steal it! I got there first. May be others have done in other books but this is my baby and I would like to put my stamp on it.

More importantly I am practising the art of creating, the art of story telling.

Any idea worth having is just that, an idea. To turn it into a plot (or a piece of writing) and drive the plot using believable characters, story line and events needs work.

I rest my case..

So ideas come from you. From your own head.

To get ideas your brain should be free from the confines of rigid thought, logic and adult inhibitions. ( unless you're writing a factual book!)

You should ask silly questions and dare to be different.

You should combine one idea with another like some mad scientist and see what comes up.

Sometimes these explode and create a mess. Sometimes you have wasted a lot of time going up a wrong alley, a dead end.

But sometimes new life is born and it is exciting to invent something new.

Most of all the journey there is as exciting, as satisfying as the destination!

Get Writing...
Get Writing...

© 2011 Mohan Kumar


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    • BloomRule profile image

      Rube Bloom 

      2 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      Wonderful hub. I've been having writer's block for a long time and this just gave me a good inspiration to get back into writing. Thank you for sharing it

    • Docmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Kumar 

      4 years ago from UK

      Thank you all again for your wonderfully insightful comments and your time.

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools Hogg 

      8 years ago from North-East UK

      Mohan great hub and the Steven Johnson video was brill (though it stuck at 35:20 seconds and would not budge so I had to watch the rest on You Tube). You're right about how ideas come to us, in lots of different ways and it is our job to develop them further but the advice 'sit down and write' in the one most of us struggle with :o) Great hub, very interesting and useful - voted up etc and shared.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      8 years ago from Florida

      This is just another one of your wonderful Hubs. You have made me think today of subjects to write about.

      I voted this UP, etc.

    • Temi Benjamin profile image

      Temi Benjamin 

      8 years ago from Europe.

      I thoroughly enjoyed what you had to say, start to finish. It's great you shared this as it would definitely do me a world of good. Thanks again!

    • everythingdazzles profile image


      8 years ago from Houston

      Great tips and ideas.

    • jainismus profile image

      Mahaveer Sanglikar 

      8 years ago from Pune, India

      Another great Hub on writing. Thank you for sharing the tips.

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 

      8 years ago from Western NC

      Great ideas and insights into the idea of inspiration. I am definitely always reading something - I seem to always have around 15 books checked out from the library - they know me by name over there and wonder what happened to me if I don't show up every two weeks - or more!

      I agree about observing and it's a skill I'm still trying to develop. It's so important as writers to do this. Thank you for this insightful hub!

    • samiaali profile image


      8 years ago

      This is a great Hub Docmo! You are so right in that inspiration comes from everywhere. It could be the greatest event and it could be the smallest thing that inspires. Lovely Hub with lovely photos! :)

    • Docmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Kumar 

      8 years ago from UK

      Dana- I'm very much like you in that a million ideas fire in my brain all the time. I have found writing this a helpful exercise in organizing my thoughts. Thanks for your comments.

    • Docmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Kumar 

      8 years ago from UK

      Shalini- thank you for your visit and sharing this. I am glad you found this interesting and helpful.

    • DanaTeresa profile image

      Dana Strang 

      8 years ago from Ohio

      I like this very much. Nice to see organized words given to the seeming chaos going on in this brain of mine. I am one of those people that hangs on to billions of snippets of info. Every now and then a few of them combine in just the right way and out pops an idea.

      Lately I have been all about writing practice. Trying to make something of these ideas. You have reminded me that I have to get back to reading. Thanks!

    • shalini sharan profile image

      shalini sharan 

      8 years ago from Delhi

      as always, i find your hub tremendously interesting and useful

      it is a pleasure to read your work

      sharing it on HubHoppers

    • Docmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Kumar 

      8 years ago from UK

      resspenser- thank you for your visit and comments.

    • theraggededge profile image

      Bev G 

      8 years ago from Wales, UK

      Brilliant. Love the story of how a great idea came out of the mundane act of filling the petrol tank. I'm reading "Imagine" by Jonah Lehrer right now and it is very similar to to many of the points you make here - there's a great account of how Bob Dylan reconnected with his muse after burnout.

    • resspenser profile image

      Ronnie Sowell 

      8 years ago from South Carolina

      Enjoyed the hub. I've read several of yours and I'll be back to read some more later. Voted up!

    • Docmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Kumar 

      8 years ago from UK

      Glad you love 'em Leah- I particularly feel proud of this series ( although I still don't feel satisfied ;-) let me know what you think of the rest of the chapters. I intend to write the next installment soon... thanks for your visit and kind comments!

    • LeahKam profile image


      8 years ago

      I love love LOVE this! Every section had me going, "YES! That's just how I feel." And I can't help but be reminded once again that there's so much overlap between writing and entrepreneurship - all art, for that matter. The tips here should help guide our every interaction with people, the world, and ideas. Thanks so much for writing this. Can't wait to read more!

    • Docmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Kumar 

      9 years ago from UK

      Hi Claire- bring on those big, great, crazy ideas. The world needs 'em. Thank you for your wonderful comment and compliment. Much appreciated.

    • Clairepeek profile image


      9 years ago

      Hello Docmo!

      Now, I definitely believe I can do it ^_^ Poetry is my comfort zone, and writing about my life experiences as well... but I have some big, great and crazy ideas that I wish could work... in your hub, I found extremely precious advices that might... no... that will help me sharpen my quill. I'll read on your next tips a little late, but again, thank you for this. Nothing abstract in your tips, they are so helpful. You really should be teacher :P

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      This is a wonderful hub-great breakdown of material. I love the creative process you have supported here with all the examples. I believe that observation is the key to creating great characters. Observing people, observing and, as you stated, LISTENING to dialogue, observing life!

      Enjoyed the hub, Mohan. Thanks. :)

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Docmo very useful hub that you have written. When I write poetry I write it, ponder over it, then all of a sudden I get that bolt of lightening which you described so well. Okay off to read #3 now.

      Up, useful and awesome!

    • Docmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Kumar 

      9 years ago from UK

      Talking about royalty- it was great that the King's Speech won. it's ten to 5.00 here and I think I better sign off or I'll be no use at work...'nite! ( well mornin' really)

    • epigramman profile image


      9 years ago

      ..and yes I am keeping an eye on the Academy Awards in my neck of the woods which is Ontario, Canada (Lake Erie) and it's 11:34 pm right now .....

    • Docmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Kumar 

      9 years ago from UK

      Epi- we must be kindred spirit. I am as eclectic in my tastes as you are I love bozouki music and was in Mykonos last summer listening to the wonderful strains of balalaika sipping some lovely retsina. I love Jimi Hendrix too as I do many other genres. I am ever so grateful for your gracious comments. you are a true Gent, Sir.

    • epigramman profile image


      9 years ago

      ...well you can understand why the epi-man loves a hub like this one - it gives me even more ideas - lol - and because music rules my life and my writing - I mean who else would go from Greek bouzouki music to Ben Webster to Jimi Hendrix in the same hour - much the same way I write - I'm all over the place!

      This landmark hub really should be installed into every virtual library in the cyber universe - and it's something that no writer here at the Hub should do without!!!!

    • Docmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Kumar 

      9 years ago from UK

      Thanks for dropping by sweetMarie - generating ideas and using them to create is also close to my own heart!

    • SweetMarie83 profile image

      Marie Landry 

      9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Excellent hub! Great ideas and information. I love hearing where others get their inspiration, especially when it's similar to my process - I get ideas from literally everyone, everything and everywhere. I love that I'm lucky enough to work in a profession where I can put my overactive imagination to use!

    • Docmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Kumar 

      9 years ago from UK

      Thank you very much astigpinoy16, appreciate your visit and comments.

    • astigpinoy16 profile image


      9 years ago from Philippines

      great hub. I am new to writing as well here on HP and for my short stay here I learned a lot, thanks for sharing this it will help me a lot to develop my writing. Keep it coming.

    • Docmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Kumar 

      9 years ago from UK

      Thank you Media Mischief, similar themes and behaviours emerge when scribes consider writing skills and's good to share.

    • Media Mischief profile image

      Media Mischief 

      9 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Lots of good thoughts here! I reinforce your ideas about the importance of observing and listening -- this is where most of my best writing usually starts. I also encourage all to ponder.

    • Docmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Kumar 

      9 years ago from UK

      Thanks Genna, appreciate the feedback - especially coming from you !

      @thoughtforce- glad you enjoyed my hub. Thanks for the feedback and follow.

      It feels presumptuous to be writing on 'writing tips' when one is not a best selling author but we all share the passion for writing and I am glad my thoughts make sense to those who share the same passion.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      9 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      "The first rule of writing, is to read. This is not necessarily to soak up new plots but reading expands our power of observation."

      This is a terrific hub. But this first rule is such an absolute. Without this, we cannot progress any further without enormous difficulty.

      A vote up that is well-deserved.

    • thougtforce profile image

      Christina Lornemark 

      9 years ago from Sweden

      A wonderful hub! To write is a process, and I really like; a mad scientist, ideas explodes and create a mess:)

      To get ideas on subjects to write on isn´t difficult, the tricky part is to make the ideas into something worth reading! And you have manage to describe this complicated process in a brilliant way. Voted up, of course!

    • richtwf profile image


      9 years ago

      An excellent hub and a thoroughly enjoyable read indeed. You have a great talent to communicate your thoughts across in a very easy and entertaining manner.

      I love your analogy of the forming of a storm and lightning striking and how it is similar to how our minds chew over what we've ingested before creating that moment of inspiration - That's so true.

      An inspiring hub and look forward to the next one!

      God bless you my friend.

    • Docmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Kumar 

      9 years ago from UK

      @Lynda - I know the feeling ! I am the same. A million ideas and not enough time to write them all. The hubpage format is helping me spread my wings and fly through different topics of interest. Thanks for your comments - I always value your feedback

      @WillStarr - I ve also written like that. I have a bimonthly newspaper column and often I don't think about it till the night before the deadline- my first paragraph is often the inspiration. Thanks for dropping by Will.

      @ Ashantina - it's clear you are a listener and observer from your work. There is so much around us to generate ideas. I am a voracious reader too and even kept a daily diary of my book a day habit all through my childhood! It all helps! Thanks very much.

      @Papernotes. Welcome and thank you so much for your comments. Ideas are like forests we may get too close to our daily reality-trees and lose sight of them. A quiet time of reflection and reading always helps!

    • PaperNotes profile image


      9 years ago

      Very detailed and thorough hub! Fantastic! One of the many challenges that writers face is the lack of ideas on what to write about.

    • Ashantina profile image


      9 years ago

      For me, when I write poetry I'm inspired by anything and everything.. it could be a passing phrase said by a stranger.. a line in a newspaper.. a song I'd never heard before or usually the words just come streaming from above :)

      One of my fave writers is Maya Angelou - this woman is like a walking encyclopaedia, and one of the reasons her work is so exceptional is because she got into the habit of reading. Voraciously. And has been reading (at least)one book a week since the age of 12.

      The tips you mention are useful and hands on for writers/aspirants and it reminded me that I need to get my butt in gear if I want that bestseller! Thanks :)

    • WillStarr profile image


      9 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      My stories write themselves. My inspiration is the first paragraph. After that, who knows where it will go?

      Great Hub!

    • lmmartin profile image


      9 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Lovely hub, Docmo. I never have a problem getting ideas. Far from it; I have more ideas than I have time to write. Anything, anything at all can set off that chain of thought and it usually begins with "What if..." Thanks for a good read. Lynda


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