Where Do Ideas Come From?

One of the most common questions authors are asked is: “Where do you get your ideas?” You may have asked this question yourself, or at least thought about it, particularly if you have spent any time staring at a blank screen.

The reason, presumably, is that the person asking the question is struggling to come up with ideas of their own. And it may seem that an author, particularly a prolific one, has no shortage of them and might have some to spare. Or at least they can draw a map for others to follow.

But is that actually the case? Does someone who has ideas for books, for songs, for paintings, for inventions, or really for anything at all, establish a connection to a world of ideas?

What, exactly, is an idea? Some might characterize an idea as an external thing, like an apple you can pick from a tree. Others might say they are simply the logical conclusions from a series of statements. Or perhaps at the confluence of two seemingly disparate fields is where ideas can be found.

Whatever you think happens to be the nature of ideas, how might you direct someone to access them more easily? Is your imagination like a muscle, and the more you use it the easier it becomes to use? If you read more books, or have conversations with strangers, or go to museums, will inspiration come to you more readily?

Where do ideas come from?

Related questions: How can we turn ideas into actions? What are the benefits of fiction? Where do shared ideas exist? When do you need inspiration?

5 thoughts on “Where Do Ideas Come From?”

  1. I’m going to treat this question as a practical one — how do I best form ideas — rather than a theoretical musing on the nature of ideas.

    And I’ll begin with what is, of course, the easiest answer: drinking a quality cup of coffee while in a discussion amongst friends is a great way to perfect an idea. A kernel of a decent thought gets teased about from different perspectives and angles. And then, voila, a finely-tuned concept is shaped and shared.

    Or, I might add that most of my best introspective thinking happens when I am placed in a different environment, find myself in an extra-sensory situation, or combination of the two:

    1. For the different environment, place me on a pedestrian walkway in a town in the south of France and ideas for how to better myself come pouring out of my head and into my journal.
    2. As an example of the extra-sensory situation, put me in my garden as I touch the soil, see the pollinators dancing on a sunflower, smell the scent given off of a tomato plant, listen to the birds calling back and forth to one another, and taste a green bean fresh off the vine; my brain becomes awash in new ideas or ways to think about old ideas differently.
    3. For the combo, I remember walking in the gardens of the palace / fortress of Alhambra in Granada, Spain and having my brain gushing with thoughts I never thought before. (Travel is really one of the best ways to change your orientation to the ideas and patterns of regular life.)

  2. Ideas are everywhere.

    I don’t mean that in some sort of vague, keep-looking-and-you’ll-find-one way, but rather in a very real, literal way. I’m surrounded by ideas, stretching into the past as well as into the future.

    I’m sitting at the desk in my office, typing this on my computer. Everything around me, everything in my sight and nearly everything within a 500 foot radius, started out as an idea that someone had. Admittedly, some ideas are quite old, like a chair to sit on or a shirt to wear. But even those old ideas have been improved in function, manufacture, distribution, etc. Our entire lives are built on ideas: the idea for pens or pencils to write with, and the idea of paper to write on. Printing, book binding, phones, computers, TVs, music, smartphones, the Internet — all ideas that someone had at some point.

    But those are ideas people have already had. What if I’m trying to come up with a *new* idea?

    Those ideas are everywhere as well. Every time I have a problem, that could very well be an idea. How do I make something difficult easier? How do I improve something that is inefficient or problematic? Every action I take, every conversation I have, every book I read, every place I go, every experience I have are all ideas, or at least could become ideas.

    Michael and I have been working on the Intellectual Roundtable for well over a year now. In all that time, we’ve never struggled to come up with a question for a given week. We may have struggled with how exactly to word the question, or had trouble in thinking how to introduce a question, but never with questions in general. We have more than a dozen draft questions just waiting for a chance to be posed.

    When we first started planning this blog, we quickly agreed on a weekly posting schedule, not because we were worried about running out of questions if we posted more frequently, but rather that we wanted to allow time for people to respond, and we wanted the time to do a decent write-up of each individual question. But we’ve never had a problem coming up with a question.

    Because ideas are everywhere.

    1. Lee (and Michael), I just discovered this question and your comments today, seven months after you wrote them. It must be disappointing that no one has responded in all that time.

      I’m reminded of a song we sing at church, “In God’s Time” – maybe I can find it on YouTube. Anyway, my point is, you plant seeds and in God’s time, they will bear fruit. This question is living proof. 🙂
      Sorry I can’t find the lyrics.

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