Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

I don’t have a Bucket List. At least not yet I don’t. In lieu of a tangible list, I only have a set of vague notions about some of things I’d like to do (or, more accurately, accomplish) before that inexorable kicking. But that is a topic for a future blog post.

That being said, I do know of one item in particular destined for The List. And here it is: “Have someone I don’t know ask me, ‘Where do you get your ideas?'” While at first glance this might seem like an odd sort of thing to add to a Bucket List, if you peel back the words you’ll see that its importance lies in the chain of events that leads up to this event. But, again, that is a topic for a future blog post.

This post is just about ideas in general, and it just so happens to begin with someone else checking off an item on my list. Earlier this month, author Joanne Harris tweeted:

All authors dread the question: “Where do you get your ideas from?” This is because there is NO ANSWER.
— Joanne Harris

Up-and-coming author J. K. Rowling retweeted this and concurred: “True. I once answered: ‘The same place you get yours!’ to a small boy. ‘I never have ideas,’ was the glum response.”

In spite of the sad reply, Rowling’s explanation is absolutely true. The “place” she is talking about is what the scientific community collectively calls “the brain.” There’s no magic here, just one hundred billion cells all working together and churning out countless ideas each day, whether you believe that is happening or not.

One day in 1990, Jo Rowling’s one hundred billion cells produced one idea: the image of a young boy attending a wizard’s school. That is all. She didn’t right then and there compose all 1,084,170 words of the Harry Potter series. She just had an idea. And that idea just came from her brain.

To the small, glum boy who never has ideas: I believe you do have ideas. We all have ideas. Unless you’re suffering from physical damage to the brain, you simply cannot function without having ideas. “I know what to have for dinner tonight!” “I know what I’m going to wear to work today!” “I know what might create a twenty-four billion dollar franchise.”

The trick isn’t in the idea. The trick is in recognizing it for what it is and then doing something about it. My guess is that when people say “I don’t have ideas” (and believe me, I say this to myself all the time) what they really mean is “I can’t think of anything right now that might create a twenty-four billion dollar franchise.” And they’re right. They probably can’t. But here’s the thing: Rowling never thought that either. It began with a simple idea, and then off it went.

So many good and/or popular stories have such small beginnings.

  • Star Wars: Boy meets mentor, goes on adventure, overcomes the Evil Empire. In space.
  • The Hobbit: Hobbit meets mentor, goes on adventure, overcomes the Dreaded Dragon. In Middle-earth.
  • Green Eggs and Ham: Weird creature in hat meets mentor, goes on adventure, overcomes the Fear of the Unknown. In drawings.

As you can see, every big idea starts from a little idea, and people have little ideas all the time. Fortunately, I’ve just thought of a little idea that I think might be big. Let me know what you think: Boy meets mentor, goes on adventure, overcomes Agent Smith. In some weird kind of computer-simulated reality.

I think I’m onto something here.

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