In On Writing, Stephen King reports that he was most often asked from whence he gets his story ideas.
As an example, he tells of stopping to fill his car with gas, walking to the back of the gas station, slipping on the snow, and nearly falling down a hill into a raging stream. He certainly would have been swept away by the water. As he wondered how long it would have taken the station attendant to report his abandoned car to the police, he had an idea for a book about aliens and cars (which were not really cars) that swallowed people.
Regarding creative ideas, Elizabeth Gilbert says it like this:
“I believe that our planet is inhabited not only by animals and plants and bacteria and viruses, but also by ideas. Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form. They are completely separate from us, but capable of interacting with us—albeit strangely. Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. It is only through a human’s efforts that an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual.”
“ideas are alive, that ideas do seek the most available human collaborator, that ideas do have a conscious will, that ideas do move from soul to soul, that ideas will always try to seek the swiftest and most efficient conduit to the earth (just as lightning does).” ― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
I don’t accept Gilbert’s belief that ideas are disembodied life forms. I think that’s weird. However, I know people who believe as she does. In her TED talks, she gives other examples from her life experiences. Apparently, she also believes ideas are in the sky. I ‘m sure that many talented, bright, sane artists experience such things. I do not. Regarding such belief, Liz may ask, “why not?” My answer is because it’s not true. One of her TED talks can be viewed here.
In Steal Like an Artist: 10 things nobody told you about being creative, Austin Kleon suggests a source of ideas that I use every day. It is real. I can see it, touch it, hear it, and I am seriously affected by it. It is you. Your ideas, words, products, the thoughts you share, and everything about you that is creative is the source of my creativity. I get so many creative ideas from other people (living and dead) that I’m often busy choosing which idea I will pursue. Kleon is not talking about theft or plagiarism. He is talking about inspiration.
Austin Kleon’s book is an easy and friendly read. It’s short. And while a lot of it is common sense to me (I agree with it), I suggest adding it any library on creativity. Much of what he says aligns well with what Liz Gilbert advises in her book (not the ghost-source ideas). I find it interesting that while all three books (King, Gilbert, and Kleon) are basically memoir(ish), only King comes out and says so (A Memoir of the Craft) in the title. Austin has a TED talk that is good and supports his theme. Find it here.
I like the section in Steal Like an Artist called “Make Things, Know Thyself” where Kleon talks about the imposter syndrome and how that can affect creative people. I did a blog on that subject a while back (read it here). While Gilbert does not address imposter syndrome specifically, she does suggest entitlement as a way to counter feelings of unworthiness.
The few pages in the “Make Things, Know Thyself” section is where Austin tells us that creative people don’t know where the good stuff comes from; they just do the work. If there is a critical link in all three books (and my opinion), it is in doing the work. We must make something from these ideas we have (confident or not). Creativity loves a working artist. My personal experience is that writing gives me ideas for more writing. Thus, creating things should make us all more creative.
While none of these talented and successful writers advise us to quit our day jobs (I no longer have one), they each emphasize how important it is to do our art, which is what Liz calls making the idea manifest. The work is critical. If you truly love your art, you will find a way to do it. I love the reason King gives for doing his.
“I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for the joy, you can do it forever.” ~ Stephen King, On Writing
What is your source of inspiration? Are your ideas from out of the blue? Or, do you get them from other people?
After a special blog next Tuesday, in my next segment on creativity I’ll discuss suffering, love, and creativity. But first, I plan to blog on the art of aging.
Have a nice weekend.