Monday, 8 February 2010

Where do ideas come from, mummy? #2

I have been accused of having 'ideas'. I can't argue. I have more ideas than I know what to do with. Something in the wiring of the brain maybe.

So I do get a bit tired with people, especially poets, sticking with the same old same old. I knew one who went to work on the train and walked his dogs at weekends. ALL his poems were about riding on trains and walking dogs. A clever writer could probably squeeze a fair few metaphors for life, the universe and everything out of such mundane material, and on occasions he did. But there are limits to how much he could surprise or challenge - or to how much he surprised or challenged himself as a writer.

So where do ideas come from? Lots of places. But often from making links between the seemingly unrelated. Not sure if I do this naturally or just trained myself to, but it's been productive. My 'Silence Museum' poem came about simply by mis-hearing Science Museum, but it got me thinking about something I hadn;t thought about before.
Here's an exercise:
  • On lined paper, make a list* of subjects you might like to write about - do it quickly and freely without thinking too hard
  • Fold the paper vertically so you can't see the list. Forget what you've just written.
  • On the same lines, write another list.
  • Unfold and see what appears next to each other on a line.
  • There'll be a lot of nonsense, but (usually!) one or two marriages will leap out at you - connections zapping between them... acrobatic firemen, coin-operated walking boots, cat scaffold...
* It helps if each vertical list is of broadly the same kind of thing. You could have a list of concepts (fear, lonliness, ballroom dancing, last person on earth, parent) OR 'voices you'd like to write in (animal, fictional character, profession) OR places (library, museum, island, train) or interesting adjectives (coin-operated, camouflaged, open-top)

Just playing around like this has generated a few nice ideas, especially for short, quirky poems and stories.

Where do YOUR ideas come from?


  1. That's an interesting exercise. I'll give it a go, although, I'm never really too stumped for ideas. They just seem to pop into my head, usually when I'm involved in something totally unrelated. As you say, maybe it's in the wiring of the brain.

  2. "I got a head full of ideas that are drivin' me insane" -Dylan, Maggies Farm.

    Writers block too, I just don't get it. If you're not compelled to write then what's the problem?

    My ideas come from everywhere. I think that if one endeavors to keep one's eyes and ears open at all times then ideas will come. Like you say, it's just a matter of throwing things together and seeing what happens.

  3. That's a great exercise. I'll steal that, if I may. (Clue to where I get my ideas ....)

  4. You said you liked my dog and train poems ...

  5. Ha ha! I don't recall you writing any dog and train poems - just FILTHY FILTHY chocolate and cream cake ones! I don't mean the beardy man's one, either, where he's on a train and turns into a dog - that's class. No, it's someone you don't know who hasn't been seen for a while.

  6. My ideas usually come from alcohol fueled family conversations. I'm more of a documenter than writer.

  7. You're all absolutely right. Martin and Mark are both spot on about them arriving uninvited, that's why it puzzles me when people ask. Maybe they should be fuelling their families with alcohol like you Elly!