Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Gina Robinson on the Creative Spark

Gina Robinson
The Spy Who Left Me
Publisher: St. Martin's
Pub date: November 2011
Agent: Kim Lionetti

(Click to Buy)

The Creative Spark—How Do You Get Your Ideas? And Where Do They Come From?

As a published author, the number-one question I'm asked by people who aren't writers is a variation of "How do you get your ideas? Where do your ideas come from?" Think this question is easy to answer? Give it your best shot. But be warned—proceed with caution.

Greater minds than mine have been trying to come up with a satisfying response for more than three thousand years. The ancient Greeks of Socrates's time believed ideas and inspiration came from being possessed by the gods and blessed by Zeus's nine daughters, the Muses. Later, during their Renaissance, the Italians tied the idea of genio to pazzia, the thought that inspiration was linked to madness. Neither claiming divine possession nor creative craziness work for today's writer.

The honest answer, "Uh, I don't know. From everywhere?" doesn't satisfy. People revere creativity and inspiration. And most want to be told how to capture it for themselves. They expect a more detailed answer from a fiction-writing professional than a vague, "everywhere." And to be honest, they think you're holding out on them and keeping the secret handshake to yourself.

"From life" seems like another good response. But on inspection, that doesn't fly either. I write humorous romantic suspense novels about spies. Tell people I get my ideas from life and they look at me funny. No, I've never garroted someone with a lei or been chased by a bike-pump-wielding assassin like my heroine in The Spy Who Left Me. And, no, I'm not a secret agent like my heroes are. Though you'll just have to take my word for it, because if I were a secret agent, would I tell you here?

Truthfully, I've been stumped for years, stammering an answer when asked. Until my husband pointed me to an excellent book, The Riddle, Where Ideas Come From and How to Have Better Ones by Andrew Razeghi. The book is geared toward building conceptual creativity for innovation in business, but much of what Razeghi says applies to artistic creativity. He posits that curiosity begets creativity. When I read that, I had an aha moment—that's where my ideas come from, my insatiable curiosity! For years, I've been taking this question too literally.

Where do my ideas come from? From pondering questions like, "What would it be like to be married to a spy in the vein of James Bond?" "How would I escape from an assassin?" "Would it be fun to lie for a living?" "How does it feel to love a dangerous man?"
Feel free to claim my answer as your own. By telling people curiosity inspires your ideas, you're giving them the secret to finding their inspiration. Anyone can be curious. It's a big relief to people that creativity doesn't take genius. And it preserves the real top-secret source of a writer's ideas—the Internet ;-)

Where do you tell people your ideas come from? I'd love to hear.


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Leah said...

Hee hee hee...

I've been working on a zombie novel for a year now, and am actually going to blog my response to this very question tonight in honor of my writing anniversary. :)

In short...I wasn't sure WHAT to write about last year, until my husband sent me an epic tweet.

Zombie cows, he said, in response to my "What do I write about" whine on Twitter.

That sparked something in my brain, and I've never been the same since.

(There are, in fact, zombie cows at the end of my novel...just for him.)

Martin Willoughby said...

My ideas come from life...then I ask a stupid question about it.

I see a middle aged man walking down the street, going about his business and ask: What would it be like if he was kidnapped by a time traveller?

Sometimes they work, often they don't.

Elizabeth Janette said...

As a child, my imagination ran rampant. My parents had these old creepy freezers out in our laundry room. I was convinced that my parents were murderers who had chopped up people and stuffed them into the freezers. Oh, and the barn was filled with ghosts. Perhaps I read a few too many mysteries as a child. Somehow, I managed to have a happy childhood regardless of my overactive imagination.

web promo said...

Wow... Thanks.. I'm at the first time on your blog!

christine warner said...

I really do find inspiration and ideas from everyday life. Watching people and creating a story around them, or sometimes someone will say something and it'll make me think of a story or a scene to build a story around. From newspapers, magazines, television, happenings on the job...the possibilities are endless and the folder on my desktop filled with ideas is evidence to the fact.

Great post!

Victoria Hamilton said...

Wow, you just gave me an 'aha' moment. Of course... curiosity! Far from killing the cat, it fuels the writing motor!

Gina Robinson said...

Looks like we have a lot of people-watchers here, lol. Count me among them. I love watching people and making up stories about them.

And the corollary--innocently eavesdropping on public conversations. Of course, that's only when people are talking way too loud and I can't help but overhear ;-)

Though I generally don't tell non writers about either of these activities. It tends to freak them out. I don't know why, hehehe.

Zombie cows--I like it!

The Other Stephen King said...

Schenectady. There's an idea factory there that other authors told me about. For a buck fifty you can get a six-pack of half-decent ones. The next Harry Potter idea is out of my price range currently, but some day I'll pony up the cash.

Heh. I wrote an entire blog post about that several months ago. It's a funny topic, and I like the way you treated it. My published novel (and the soon-to-be-pubbed sequel) were ideas that developed slowly over time. I took a really cool world system I'd read in Piers Anthony's work and tweaked it a bit, and then over the years built out a believable magic system.

Otherwise, ideas are indeed all around us. A couple of years ago I read a story in the news that triggered an idea that I'm finally turning into a submission for a writing competition.

Kate Douglas said...

I've always said my ideas come from "what if?" Excellent example is the story I just finished writing. We'd gone to see the Allen Array at Hat Creek, CA, where huge satellite dishes march across a high Sierra mountain valley searching for signals from space as part of the SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) project.

"What if we were sending signals out to aliens instead of just trying to capture them?" I asked my spouse. My new Kensington series, Dream Catchers was born. You just never know!

Robena Grant said...

Excellent post. I'm like you, Kate. I ask a lot of what ifs. Love the sound of your new book.

Unknown said...

Great post! This was a fun one :)

I actually get a lot of my ideas from dreams, and then I form the worlds around that little tidbit I can remember using my real-life surroundings and people.

Kate Larkindale said...

I get ideas from all over the place. Newspaper articles, TV, movies, books I read. A character will come to me and I'll go 'hmmm, wonder what she'd do if xxxxx happened...' And that's pretty much the beginning of a project for me.

David Klein said...

Gina: well done. Love your answer. I've always struggled when readers ask me where my ideas come from. I usually say something lame about ideas being everywhere and what I do is try to recognize a good one.

Jennifer said...

Hey Thanks!

I'm going to go check out the Razeghi book. :)

In addition to writing myself, I work with middle school writers. They get stuck, and then I don't know what to say except keep writing...

Gina Robinson said...

Thanks to everyone for the compliments on the post :-) I'm glad people are enjoying it.

As many of you have said, it's so true that we draw inspiration and ideas from everyday life and the media that surrounds us. But people who don't write seem baffled by that. After all, they're living in the same world and story ideas don't pop out at them from the newspaper or a conversation at the grocery store, lol.

Jennifer--I hope you enjoy The Riddle. It really is a good book that gets you thinking.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I tell them they come from "what if" questions or random ponderings like you mentioned toward the end of your post, because that's usually the case. I also get ideas when I read a book or watch a movie and wonder how it would have been if the ending had been changed, and then if something in the set-up were different, and if this character was less X and more Y...

Nevertheless, I'm glad for your book recommendation, as I ran into a wall, in terms of creativity, last week while trying to outline a few things. I really did just blog about it a few hours ago! It's most frustrating and I think reading about building creativity will be useful. Thanks!

K. L. Hallam said...

Love this. And I love my curiosity. :) thank you for this.

Unknown said...

My ideas are a recipe of one part life experiences, one part useless trivia and three parts complete nonsense. :-)

Sara said...

Great post! I love thinking about this stuff. Recently, I've been worrying (and blogging) about my fear that the editing process on my WIP has sapped and and all creative spark (lol--but wait, seriously!).
If anyone hasn't seen Elizabeth Gilbert's TED talk about creativity, it's a MUST-WATCH. She talks beautifully about the pressure on writers and the Greek concepts of creativity and muses too. It's fascinating - and also a relief - let's pin it all on our muses ;)

Gayle Ann Williams said...

Gina, great post. I'm with Kate Douglas on this. My ideas often stem from real life experience with a large dose of "what if" folded in. Until my travels in SE Asia, and only just missing the tragic Tsunami by hours, I never would have thought to create a paranormal world of deadly, endless waves. And I think by writng this purely fictional world, if gave me a sense of somthing I could control- instead of something I could not. Plus? I could add a happy ending for my characters, somthing we can not always do in real life.
I loved this question, thanks for the insight, and I can't wait to read the AGENT EX series. I have THE SPY WHO LEFT ME in my hands right now!