Where (and When) Do You Get Your Ideas?

Posted by:
Susan Rooke
March 1, 2018

Most writers of fiction are asked, at some point in their careers, “Where do you get your ideas?” Our responses tend to be vague. Because, really, who can nail that down? Is it the subconscious? Carl Jung’s “collective unconscious”? Do we snatch them, as Willie Nelson has said he’s done with his songs, “out of the air”?

To my readers who write fiction: Can you tell me with certainty where you get your ideas? Sometimes I’ve had a notion strike me out of the blue with such force that it felt as if a being from a vastly superior parallel universe murmured the suggestion in my ear. No, it may not be as reasonable as the other theories (even Willie's), but ideas have to come from somewhere. And whatever great, bubbling aquifer of creativity they arise from, I’d like to tap into it any time I please.

Any time I please. Is that possible? Maybe for people who diligently practice mindfulness and meditation. Or who smoke a lot of grass. I do neither. (And if you read February 15th’s post "After the Glory Days," you know I’m telling the truth!) But thinking about it, I realized that ideas do tend to flow more easily at certain times for me. Which makes the “when” of the creative process as important as the “where.” When is it most likely that an especially good idea will break the surface of my conscious mind? Well, there are two times during the day most likely to spark this kind of creativity: Either when I’m exercising, or I’m dreaming.

“Exercise” in this case means some activity that’s repetitive and not too demanding, which allows my mind to wander. In particular, walking. (In nature. I don’t mean from the parking lot into the hair salon.) It works well for those times when I need an unexpected solution to a plot problem, or to dig into a character’s motivation.

Dreams, however, especially the ones that occur in the hour before I wake up, are far more likely to allow those nudges from a parallel universe. This period of time is when my characters become physical, reaching out touch me from whatever land of mist they occupy. They talk to me about themselves, and they tell me their names. Once I’ve awoken, I’ve researched these names, and some of them have surprised me. Here are just three examples (the first is from The Space Between, the other two are from its sequel, The Realm Below):

Allowyn: He’s Lugo’s son, and is the only member of the Penitent faery tribe who’s born without flaws. As such, Allowyn is meant to marry the “perfect” human female, Mellis, in order to one day get the Penitents back in the Maker’s good graces. His name appears to be a variation (just one of many in several languages) of the Welsh name Alwyn, which means “noble friend,” or “friend.” Allowyn as it’s spelled means “freedom lover.” An interesting insight, since his desire for freedom is something Allowyn decides to explore to the max in Book 2.

Bryngwyn: She’s a mountanous white sow, a new character in Book 2, and she’s the animal companion of another new character, Pollector (see the 3rd name below). I’d begun writing her into the story without naming her yet, then one morning before dawn I dreamed the word “Bryngwyn.” It sounded Welsh to me, but for all I knew, I’d made it up. When I awoke, I googled it and discovered that it is indeed Welsh, and means “white hill.” The perfect name for her, but it was disconcerting to realize I had no recollection of ever hearing that word in my life.

Pollector: This character is also known as The Wanderer. He’s a human being who, because of an evil act he committed long before the book begins, is condemned to perpetually travel among the three contiguous worlds of the Space Between, the Realm Below, and the world of humankind. He has a bizarre disfigurement that is meant to serve as a lesson warning everyone who sees him of the punishment for evil deeds. No spoilers here, so I won’t tell you what Pollector looks like. But after a dream in which his name and his bizarre appearance were revealed to me, I woke up thinking about the name. Pollector. And it occurred to me that it was meant to be a composite of two words: “poll,” meaning “head,” and “lector,” meaning “lecturer.” Most appropriate.

So where on earth did these names and characters come from? I’d always leaned toward believing it’s a mix of my own subconscious with a boost from the collective unconscious. But then, just this morning, I dreamed another one. Not a character, but just a word: “Inviction.” I was so excited about it when I woke up. Maybe I’d experienced another nudge from the being in that vastly superior parallel universe! When I looked it up on the Dictionary.com phone app, though, I was crestfallen. There was no definition for “inviction” (my spell-check never heard of it either). And that seemed to be the end of it.

But writing this, I decided to try one more time. So I googled it:

Well, that settles it. I’m going with the parallel universe theory of idea origin.

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6 comments on “Where (and When) Do You Get Your Ideas?”

    1. Thank you, Susan, when you put it that way it sounds fulfilling instead of just . . . weird. I like your spin on it better than mine!

  1. Susan, we are weird by the very definition of "writer" and it never shuts up in our sleep.

    Most of the human characters in Angels & Patriots are real people, so I've been spared the name game for the most part. I didn't realize how many real people in colonial America were named William, John, Samuel, Joseph, Thomas, George, Henry, etc. John Hancock, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, John Stark, John Burgoyne... If I need a fictitious name, I use Colonial America Name Generator. Whew!

    1. Are you kidding, Salina? There's such a thing as a Colonial American Name Generator?? And if there's one kind of name generator, I bet there are more. Wow! I'd better not tell my subconscious that, or it might get lazy on me. At least I'd probably sleep better, though! ^_~

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