Writers are often asked where they get their ideas from. And, always, there is this assumption that the best and most imaginative writers were brilliant and had brilliant ideas, when in fact, brilliance happened by accident – it was an unintentional result of a practice or a lifestyle.
Much like sex, it’s a desire, it’s an urge, it’s raw – a most natural act. It is not thinking, it’s more like breathing. When you’re in love, you don’t plot your sex life, do you? God, I hope not. You don’t know what works until you’re already there. You don’t make a schedule with your lover. If you submit yourself to your writing life, as absolutely ridiculous that sounds, the less you will worry about your ideas.
By submitting yourself to the writing life, you’re inadvertently sifting through your compost pile. That is where all of your material brines. It’s your history marinading in the backyard. This is all those parts of your past you threw out, it’s the stuff you keep covered, you filed away, sometimes to never look at again.
Everyone feeds their compost pile differently. Some, never at all. Eventually, it becomes fertilizer, it’s just for some of us, if you never touch it, you’ll be dead by the time it’s ready. I eat cake, write poetry, and play a shit ton of video games to digest mine. You can go to therapy to digest yours, or the amusement park.
If you’re looking for the next best seller, stop going across town. Importing stories that aren’t yours will not help you write. They won’t be authentic, and you’ll know it. Look towards your personal history, your passions, your concerns, your obsessions, and all these little details that shape your life. I’ve often said write what you know, and I believe this wholeheartedly. Thing is, the only thing you truly know is what you’ve lived. This doesn’t mean you can’t write a bomb-ass fantasy fiction novel. Because you can, and even then, the story will be bits and pieces of who you are. Your novel will be a mix of your home life and your favorite stories. Each character you build will be aspects of your personality or the personality of people in your life.
While you’re sifting through your compost pile, consider that it takes a while for all of that to sit well – to ripen and mature. You may not be able to write about events that happened yesterday or last year, depending on how painful it was. To see your history through clear eyes, they can’t be watery. You’ll need to walk around in it for a while, you’ll need to heal first. Then you’ll find the truth, then you’ll find the lesson. Then you’ll finally get your brilliant ideas. The beauty is, if you don’t like your compost, you can live differently. Then you’ll have other brilliant ideas.