Blathering Lockdown: Day One

My editor has made it clear that after indulging my petty idiosyncrasies for months, Tor really does expect Zoe’s Tale on or near the end of the month, which is good, because I have other work piling up and I need to boot the book out the door, but also bad, because, uh, I’m not done and I have a week. The one obvious distraction is here, at the Whatever, where I love to blather so. So from now until the book is done, each day I will have do one simple test:


1. Is the book done?
a) If “yes,” blather away.
b) If “no,” stop blathering; shut up and get to work.

But since I know you will all wither away into nothingness if I do not post daily (because it’s not like you exist outside my comment threads, you see), each day I have the blather limiter on, I will leave you with a question, which you can answer and discuss to your heart’s content while I bang away like a fevered monkey on my keyboard, trying to finish the book.

So, let’s put this into practice right now:

Is the book done? NO

Blather limiter: ON

Your question for the day: Where do you get your ideas?

(Ha! Yes! The writer is having his revenge!)

Have fun with the question; I’ll update again tomorrow with a new one (since it’s unlikely I’ll be finished with the book by then. Alas).

97 Comments on “Blathering Lockdown: Day One”

  1. Where do I get my ideas? I am a humble fanfic writer, which is a relatively specialized (ahem–geekish) genre, and I have written some really odd stuff, as far as fanfic goes–my ideas come from a) thinking way too much about the canon of the television show (Highlander) I have written about, and b) needing to express ideas I have about politics, history, mythology, gender, etc., which I fed into my stories, sometimes, when I wasn’t just writing to entertain a very select group. If I have a really good non-fanfic idea someday–I might really–well, write.

  2. The paleo literature. And books. And other stuff like pictures and food.

    (#2: I think Harlan Ellison once said he got his ideas from Schenectady.)

  3. Ha, I do too exist! I’ve got a note in the front of TLC that says so! It’s even signed (but John Scalvi might have written it–I can’t quite make out the signature).

    As far as where I get my ideas, I’m a writer. I steal them. Or they’re my way of conversing with the stories that influenced mine–dealer’s choice :D.

  4. Most of the time, either standing waiting for a bus, in the shower, or most frequently, as I’m just about to fall asleep.

    The worst is most annoying as it requires me to find my glasses, find paper and pen, and write something down that may or may not be legible (about 60%, and that’s a very limited and personal definition of legible), and may or may not make any sense at all.

    If it’s computer systems debugging or design, I have an astoundingly good track record, though, for those hypnagogic revelations being useful.

  5. I wish I knew. They bubble up like mental flatus. Yeah, when my brain farts, it has ideas. When my brain cramps, I can’t think.

  6. I don’t get my ideas until I sit down and start writing, but I then I don’t sit down and write as often as I should because I don’t have any ideas… until I start writing.

    Just psychotic enough to be real, eh?

    I do occasionally have interesting ideas in the shower, which leads me to believe that it IS something in the water.

    Every morning I wake up with a different obscure song running through my head. Sometimes it’s a song I heard on the radio the day before, sometimes it’s Big Band music that my dad played when I was a kid, sometimes it’s the theme song to a TV show from the 80s. If only my ideas came so easily. Instead my brain decides to shower me with random misfires from the “long lost music” part of my brain first thing every morning.

    If only I woke up every sunrise with some sort of earth-shattering idea that drove me immediately into a frenzy of fiction writing. Instead I get to revisit “Daydream Believer” by the Monkees.

  7. Where do I get my ideas? From life.

    I got this great idea for a short story from work today. I do tech support, and it’s routine for people to ask you questions, and not really give you any detail you can work with. “I can’t log in.” “…can you clarify?” “I can’t log in! Duh!” “What’s the exact URL of the page you’re trying to log into, are you trying to log into Program #1, or Program #3, are you using the right password, is caps lock on, do you get an error message, and if so, what is it, etc etc etc.” “I dunno. Fix it.”

    In other words, users want you to be a telepath.

    And that’s an awesome idea (for fiction)…what if you were? There’s all these people reaching out to the help desk for tech support who would be *thrilled* if you *got inside their brain* and *started to read their thoughts* if it let you solve their problem faster.

    That’s scary. But also, a cool idea. And I got it from work.

    Maybe I’ll go back into work tomorrow–I might get more ideas! ;)

  8. Mine just show up, without warning, when I am thinking about something else. I keep them in a computer file. I have no idea how to make them into stories, but some have promise. One is more of a “big idea” than a short story, so if I had any clue how to write a novel …

    That’s my big question. Once you have an idea, what in &*$ do you do with it?

  9. The idea mine out back. Unfortunately, the EPA has been getting on our case lately so, we might have to shut it down. Also, Little Timmy keeps falling in. This is his fourth time being rescued. We’re starting to think he’s not there for the ideas

  10. I find that my finest ideas come at me when I am doing something mindless, like running on the treadmill, driving, or in the shower. Listening to music gets me going sometimes as well.

    The hardest part is to write down the thought as soon as possible. Strangely, these types of thoughts are easily lost as well.

  11. I’m in the midst of an idea moratorium. If I get one, I kick it out of my brain immediately.

  12. Three hours of commuting on trains with no air-con, no personal space and debatable levels of hygiene.

    Well you’d want to escape wouldn’t you?

  13. Lots of places. I got one idea from seeing a glove in the road, which sent my brain to a place of “Hey, what if all those shoes and gloves you see by the side of the road still had feet and hands in them?” I hate my brain sometimes. One I’m working on now bubbled up from Tony Pi’s LiveJournal insect icons, and another from the AKC’s current writing contest. One came from an eerily empty street in downtown St. Louis–how did it get that way?

    Then there are the what-ifs: What if a werewolf were abucted by aliens? What if a werewolf’s wife attempted to cure him against his will and it went terribly wrong? What if a spaceship crew was contracted to transport some dragon eggs, and they hatched?

    Sometimes I use writing prompts. The first line “So, I’m dead” sparked something that turned into a pretty good story (that line was later discarded). A honeycomb sparked another, which wasn’t done by the time the contest it was the prompt for ended, but is now.

    Where most of these things percolate up from, I have no idea, however. I just blame it on the Muses (Antubis from “Kingdom Hospital” and Flaubert from “Muppet Treasure Island”–yes, they’re anteaters. Shut up). And if they’d get back from their South American vacation, that’d be peachy…

  14. #6 joelfinkle: I keep an Alphasmart beside my bed for just such purposes. Though ironically I seem to have far fewer ideas now than before I put it there…

    I don’t get ideas. I’m much better for editting other people’s ideas than coming up with my own. Thus, the vast majority of my fiction efforts start by stealing someone else’s ideas and filing off all the serial numbers. I have stories based on song lyrics, roleplaying settings, tv shows, etc. Occasionally I’ll read/watch a really good story that’s been written in a really crummy way and I ponder rewriting it myself to make it work better – but then it would take too much effort, so I never do.

  15. In the shower. Or actually – while I sleep. I never remember my dreams but there seems to be something going on in my bean, since suddenly in the shower after I wake up all those crazy ideas appear.

    Clearly, my subconscious is passing me notes that way… :-)

    And this works both for creative writing and for programming problems.

  16. ideas for what?
    for my abstract art (if you want to call it art), i get ideas from music. i listen to music with headphones and i try to reproduce the movie i see in my head.
    coffee helps.

  17. I get them from seeding a question into the semi-random confusion of collected sensory inputs gathered over the course of many years. The question begins triggering neural nets which trigger other neural nets which eventually coalesce into something which is either an idea or a ripoff.

    If I’m really doing well, I can tell which it is.

  18. Usually I glance through the newspaper circulars and see what’s on sale, then go pick up a few. I’ve picked up a couple of blue light specials at K-Mart. Sometimes, if things are desperate, I hunt them down and club them until they stop struggling and drag them home.

  19. For software product design, I actually get many of my ideas from science fiction. For software implementation, the ideas mostly come from imagining what could possibly go wrong, in the worst and most public way.

  20. There are so many ideas in caffeine that I’ll never be able to use them all. I paint abstracts and those, in turn, sometimes turn into ideas for writing. Music… strange ideas there, too. Especially Beethoven… and the Carpenters.

    #4: I lived in Schenectady for a while. If that’s where Harlan Ellison got his ideas, that would explain a lot… about Ellison AND Schenectady.

  21. “Darn it, I want to read a book on X. The information in there would be useful to me.”

    “There’s no book on X? Fooey. I guess I’ll have to write the book myself.”

    That’s how it’s worked with the non-fiction, so far.

  22. Sometimes, I wish my brain would just shut up. I get random, weird ideas all the time. (Including, I’m sad to say, “In Soviet Russia, you watch Ceiling Stalin masturbate.”) I share them with other people, and break their brains. They break mine in turn, and this gives me even more weird ideas.

  23. I get my ideas by imposing limitations on myself. I get a basic what-if idea, and then go through, and put 2-3 limitations on my writing that I’m forced to think around, and I usually end up with some pretty interesting concepts.

  24. “Where do you get your ideas?”

    Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky.

    I remember the time he taught me the secret to literary success.

    “Plagiarize! Let no one else’s work evade your eyes! Remember why the Good Lord made your eyes, don’t shade your eyes, but plagiarize! Plagiarize! Plagiarize! Only be sure always to call it, please, ‘research’!”

    [Your assignment: Go look that up, find the composer, and download the album. (Sorry. No link on that one. That’s your job.)

  25. When I’m driving. And no, I don’t have one of those hand-held recorders to capture my epiphanies. I have to remember them until I get home and jot them down, but by that time, they are so jumbled I lost my original thought.

  26. I get mine from talking to people who don’t realise they’re as interesting as they are. A whole novel was sparked off by a conversation with a girl who made a living by designing costumes for Elvis impersonators.

    I’ve also discovered that people who DO think they’re interesting and say “oh, you’re a writer? You soooo should write my life story. I was born in Paris in 1979…” really aren’t. It’s like a natural law or something.

  27. Honestly, some times I’m not sure where I get my ideas? I just know that, on occasion, my ideas (for program code, at least) have drawn the most amusing mix of awe and scorn combined.

    At a previous job, I came in to work one morning to find four engineers standing around a monitor, grumbling about how ugly my code was— and how offended they were that it was eight times faster than theirs. I’m looking at that code now, and I don’t know whether to throw my hands up in glee, or just throw up.

  28. I don’t get ideas.

    At the age of Nine, my father took me to the neighbors’ house. Immediately upon entering the house, I noticed a birthday cake, some firecrackers, a book of matches, a bottle of 151 proof rum and a roll of toilet paper sitting on the living room table. Next to the table was a wedding dress on a wooden hanger, a pile of newspapers, a jar with a skull and crossbones painted on it and a cartoon picture of a coyote.

    My father noticed my interest and said, “Son, now don’t you go gettin’ any ideas, now.”

    I was an obedient son.

    I sitll don’t get ideas.

  29. A crazed little ADD imp living in my brain pumps weird random thoughts that make good story ideas into my brain. The only unfortunate side effect is when I begin writing anything he goes, “No, no, now you must focus on this!”
    “But I like this ide–.”
    “That idea is crap, write about the transforming robots!”
    “I think someone else has don–”
    “Transforming robots!”
    *sigh* such is the brain of a sufferer of chronic idea syndrome.

  30. Where do I get my ideas? In no particular order:

    Daydreaming, life, TV, radio, music, reading, my childhood, playing with action figures, thinking, reading science fiction, watching the ocean, talking with people, doing yoga, da intertubes and observing my own queer mind.

    And lastly, repeated viewings of “Endoscopies of The Rich & Famous.” You’d be amazed what they leave down there!

  31. Where do you get your ideas?

    Cast your net wide.

    At any given time, I am in the middle of reading 10 books, 20 scientific papers (online, jornal, and preprint or reprint hardcopy), 4 newspapers (a national, a local, a city, and an international), 20 blogs I look at daily, and emails to and from 100 collaborators.

    I write notes to myself on the journals, preprint, newspapers, email replies to myself. I tear out pages of newspapers and magazines and elaborate on the notes. I cut and paste from online sources (with full attribution) and bounce them off collaborators.

    I write down the particularly vivid dreams I have before getting out of bed in the morning (as Ray Bradbury recommends).

    I open and re-read and tweak each of a dozen short stories, novellas, novels, science papers, and the like that I’m writing.

    My wife complains about the vast stacks of papers and journals, half-sorted into boxes and envelopes.

    On the average of over once per day for the past 5 years I “do the math” on something that I see online, or dream up by analogy, and work itn through to analytic or numerical solution, references and hotlinks to existing literature, and state conjectures that present themselves from “getting my hands dirty” with acual data; then submit this directly of via an Associate Editor/collaborator at the Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences (hosted by AT&T Research Labs) where I currently have 1,858 contributions or comments searchable on their search engine, each date-stamped and weith my email, so that people email me from all over the world. If a cute prime pops up, I make a submission to Prime Curios (edited by two professors at a university), where I am now the #4 contributor, with 205 contributions.

    I teach (took a BIG paycut to do so) teenagers in inner city high schools. They sometimes ask GREAT questions. Explaining things to them (or to 2,000+ adult students I’ve taught through Elderhostel) clarifies the mind of the teacher, and helps me find the “frontiers of ignorance.”
    Some good explanations go to MathWorld (hosted by Wolfram Research), where I now have 19 credits.

    Write every day. EVERY DAY! You don’t have to be an Isaac Asimov (who wrote 363 days per year, 10 hours per day, typing 90 words per minute, and selling every word) but at least stretch and strain and sweat to be MORE like Asimov in work habits.

    I talk to people that otherwise I would not be talking to. At Starbucks. Waiting at a bus stop. Talk to the person BEHIND you in line at the bank (the one ahead of you can be pulled away mid-sentence when a teller appears) but the one behind you is trapped. Engage in socratic dialogue with strangers on the street, in the library, at the post office, in wheelchairs, in nurse uniforms, sitting around in plastic chairs outside the bakery. Ask them about THEIR life. Not TV. Not sports. Everyone wants to tell you about their life. Really listen.

    Listen to beautiful music every day. Follow where images from it take you.

    carry a little notebook with you, or stack of index cards rubber-banded. Jot down your ideas, however fragmentary or weird. Jot down random titles that occur to you. Sometimes a bizarre title provokes you to write a story.

    Do panels at Science Fiction conventions, and research the hell out of the subject before you appear a the con. Avoid making enemies of officious stuffy mini-Nazi fools who can throw you off panels whose moderator and all panelsts request your presence, because the mini-nazis think the con is by them, for them, and screw the actual professional scientist and author rabble.

    Go to seminars at local universities, community colleges, museums, planetaria, town meetings.

    Attend science conferences, in sciences that you DON’T know as well as those you love. Do panels at science conferences. Research the hell out of the pople you willm introduce to the audience, an hour or more each, reading their online papers, so that you can have them on your side as a genuine admirer of their actual work, and then put their expertise in the context of the conference. Soo, i.e. within under 5 years, you will have the Ex Con ask you to chair one or more SESSIONS or tracks. Work your butt off to deliver to the panel, con, Ex Con.

    Buy people drinks. Let people buy you drinks. Let Big Names invite you to A-List Parties. Be nice. Listen more than talk.

    Folks, this is not a simulation. This is not a rehearsal. This is your REAL LIFE.

    What separates successful from unsuccessful people? Not raw brains. Not level of education. Not how hard you work. Not how nice your haircut looks. Not how much money you have. Anywhere you go, there’s someone smarter, prettier, richer, and better connected. But you must do the best you can with the cards you’re dealt. And you can OUTWORK those who seem to be steps ahead of you, while they rest on their laurels.


    Not when the mood strikes. Every day. Until the habit is truly habit, and not an exercise in will power.

    I’m oversimplifying, but I take this question very seriously.

    Where do you get your ideas?

    I asked Linus Pauling. “Sir,” I said, there on the Caltech campus in the early 1970s. “You are known even among other Nobel laureates as someone who has a LOT of good ideas. What is your secret?”

    For years, I thought his answer was a glib soundbite. Gradually I realized that he had told me the key to the cosmos.

    “Two steps,” he said. “First, change your life so that you have many ideas. Then, second, learn how to be very discriminating at telling the good ideas from the bad ideas.”

    The witness may now step down. I rest my case.

  32. Chaucer. I get my ideas from Geoffrey Chaucer. You see, he’s my 18th great grandfather, and his brain has been passed down from generation to generation. Not DNA..his physical brain, in a jar.

  33. I’m not a writer, yet I still come up with ridiculous premises for stories. Usually by reading books or watching movies and mentally lamenting that it would have been so much better if they had done this or that

  34. Ideas just pop into my head, but don’t usually get very far. I can come up with interesting story ideas, but have a lot of trouble fleshing them out.

    Often, they’re based on my experiences/observations, but given a twist. (halachic law in an SF contex, local politics 50 years down the line, things like that…)

  35. I suppose I could say “court filings,” but nobody would believe me. See, e.g., United States ex rel Mayo v. Satan and his Staff, 54 F.R.D. 282 (W.D. Pa. 1971) (PDF file).

    But the real answer is “Schenectedy.” A Certain Litigious LA-Based Author sends me the list to clear for liability issues. Unfortunately, he keeps all of the really weird ones for himself… and keeps winning awards for the stories he writes from them.

  36. I get my ideas from my imagination and from things that happen or things I read. No, I do not steal ideas. I always modify them — often drastically. Some of them, however, do come from expanding on news that I read. I also get ideas from people around me. Yes, if I know you in real life you might end up as a character or part of a character in one of my stories. Sorry, no offense meant. Also, you probably won’t recognize yourself.

  37. I don’t get ideas; ideas get me.

    They like to hit me when I don’t expect them at all.

    I think that I tend to just just throw whatever impressions and thoughts I get, through reality and fiction, into the back of my head and let them mind their own business there. They then do weird things to each other, much like in a primordial soup, ideas evolve and wait for me to be either tired or bored and then – BAM! They hit me!

    Most of them don’t survive very long, but at least they entertain me.

  38. I gotgot to mention that I’m not a writer, but who siad only writes could have ideas? Huh? Huh? :0)

  39. I get my ideas when I stop looking for them – usually during that time that I would otherwise call “being bored”. (I’m not a writer, I’m a controls engineer, my ideas are usually technology-oriented.)

    I usually fill all my time with something. In line, I’m reading on my PDA, in the car, I’m listening to an audiobook. This leaves my mind itching for some spare processing cycles – which I give it on a random basis. Sitting in a chair, or even just in the car driving, with no music (or very quiet music) and no distractions, just letting my mind wander where it will to make the connections it’s been waiting to make – that usually results in some clever thoughts.

  40. Wait, you’re supposed to have ideas? Crap, that’s probably what I’ve been doing wrong all this time.

  41. I don’t know if I get ideas. I mostly get questions. Things like “How did Chile screw Bolivia out of having a coastline?” and “How can a single photon when passing through a semi-silvered mirror and taking one of two paths cause diffraction patterns with itself?”

    I’m afraid that when I ask God the second question he’ll answer “I don’t know, I just created it. I’m God. You’re so smart you figure it out.” I’m still trying to decide if that would be heaven or hell.

  42. I don’t think there’s a single source. Sometimes it comes from the “What if you had to start a war between allies?” line of thinking. Sometimes it comes from the personal challenge, “OK sucka, write a one page story about unexpected consequences.” Sometimes it comes from visualizing a scene so vividly that you realize how everyone must have gotten there.
    At work, it’s usually figuring out how people have botched things in the past 6 months and then figuring out how to have my developers code to prevent it. Sometimes it’s because I realize it’s only January 24, and 2008 is already fighting for pole position to suckle on the craptastic nipple, and I just want, you know, to have the developers do something that I think will improve things and make me feel good around November/December.

  43. The mothership beams ideas directly into my brain – where they sound like little voices only I can hear. I like most of them – except for the one that sounds like Yeardley Smith channeling Lampchop.

  44. I use the Warren Ellis method: I pour lots and lots of data into my brain until it supersaturates and begins forming spontaneous connections. When Ellis does it, he beams out Sex Rays; I just stay up until 1am typing. I must not be pouring in enough data.

  45. When Einstein was asked where his ideas came from, he replied, “One doesn’t have ideas very often, you know.”

  46. Ideas? Once you hit 35 there are no more uses for ideas. Your brain has severed all unnecessary neural connections and all you can do is run the same ideas over and over like a hamster on a wheel like a hamster on a wheel like a hamster on a wheel.


  47. I ususally get ideas when I’m trying something new for the first time – a book on a topic I know nothing about, going to a new restaurant with ethnic cuisine I’ve never tried, going to a museum. New experiences that challenge me send idea sparks flying as they grate on held beliefs.

  48. When I am glass blowing or throwing a pot on a wheel the process drives my ideas. I just start doing it and things happen. This works better with glass blowing than it does with pottery. Thats because glass is so inherently beautiful. Even crap that got totally out of control ends up atractive. I am not a writer so I really can’t help with that. I have heard that once the charactors are developed they will tell you what they would do next. I guess the writing version of what I do with glass and clay would be to just start writing then go back and see if anything worth working on came out.

  49. To give a specific example, of “where do you get your ideas,” from publishable work of mine this morning, see below.

    I was reading a book review by a notable author-attorney on a subject near and dear to my heart. Suddenly, the “small integer pattern matching” demon in the Math lobe of my brain created a connection to the Literature lobe, in reacting to the very first sentence of the book review:

    “The 14 most important words in American democracy, according to
    Anthony Lewis, are found in the 1st Amendment: ‘Congress shall make no
    law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. . . .'”

    Bingo! There are 14 lines in a Sonnet. So I set myself the task of writing an acrostic sonnet, whose first word of each line speels out the crux of the First Amendment. I imposed some formatting structure as I wrestled with it for an interrupted sub-hour: single quotes for phrases from the review; double quotes for language of legislation or Supreme Court opinions.

    The result is a kind of Hypertext Poem; a genre in which I am the first conscious exponent, going back to the talk I gave at the world’s first personal computer conference (Philadelphia, 1976) where I was demo-ing the beta-test Hypermedia system I’d co-implemented to Ted Nelson, and as I quickly had examples published in Datamation, SIGART Newsletter, New York Review of Science Fiction, and other markets. My evidence of the “chance favors the prepared mind” Asimovian stochastic process follows.


    First Amendment Acrostic Sonnet
    Jonathan Vos Post
    Copyright (c) 2008 by Emerald City Publishing

    Congress, sexual or otherwise.

    ‘Shall’ has greater force than Will.

    Make, and the maker is a poet.

    No — what part of ‘No” escapes your eyes?

    Law . . . of Euclid, law of science, still

    Abridging the red flag of disguise.

    The “absurd and immature antic”

    Freedom, degrees of freedom

    Of ‘copyright, defamation, privacy’

    Speech is obscene when, well, when you know it

    Or theft, when the black flag is piracy.

    Of “false, scandalous and malicious”, frantic

    The life or death, whose freedom is mooted

    Press ‘enter’ and be executed.

    24 Jan 2008
    Altadena, CA


    The birth and evolving understanding of two of our foundational
    freedoms — of speech and of the press.
    By Jonathan Kirsch
    January 20, 2008
    Freedom for the Thought That We Hate, A Biography of the First Amendment
    Anthony Lewis
    Basic Books: 222 pp., $25

    The 14 most important words in American democracy, according to
    Anthony Lewis, are found in the 1st Amendment: “Congress shall make no
    law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. . . .” Yet
    it was not until 1931, he points out in “Freedom for the Thought That
    We Hate,” that those words were invoked and enforced by the Supreme Court…. [truncated],1,703979.story?ctrack=1&cset=true

  50. Trip @ 51: Because Chili wanted to monopolize the bat guano mines out on the islands.

    History. Sometimes, you just can’t make this sh*t up. (See “Dirt: the Erosion of Civilization”, ch 8 or 9).

    John: please, work this factoid into a novel. No one will believe you.

  51. I start with a journal to do some freewriting exercises. Then I think of something that interests me. It could be be a person, place, thing, or concept. Whatever form that interest takes, I write whatever I can think of about it in the journal, going with whatever comes to mind. Then I consciously add additional information about whatever is missing. If I wrote about a place, then I fill in information about people, things, or concepts that interact with that place. The ultimate goal is to wind up with a person in a particular place in a particular situation with a particular problem that needs to be solved. I get there by asking myself questions over and over along the lines of who, what, when, where, why.

    When I’ve asked and answered enough questions of myself, and I can see a final resolution to the problem that needs solving, then I know I’ve got an idea with legs and I can plot a story arc and be on my way.

    The key to it all is simply starting with something I find interesting. If I’m not interested, then no amount of manipulation is ever going to make it work.

  52. Rita@64,

    Thanks, although the name’s Tripp with two p’s. It is an old family name – much better than Griffith Lyle.

    Seashore property is always valuable. Why did Bolivia let them get away with hogging it?

  53. re #45 – C.E. Petit,

    and because you’re on retainer,. you’re getting paid to say that.
    Ellison will never let the real truth out, will he?

    (Probably for the best. If we knew, all of our heads would simultaneously implode.)

  54. sorry for the double post but:

    John, I think you’re just going to have to tell your editor friends that they’ll have to wait because a day without Scalzi is like a day without…well, you know.

    My ideas? Not so much for writing per se, more often when applied to inventing new or improved products, I look at all the ways that the particular task has been done before and then implement the following: is there any old tech that hasn’t been applied (yes – give it a whack, no – next branch) is there any new tech that hasn’t been applied (yes – give it a whack, no – next branch) what happens if we turn the concept upside down? Then, if necessary, check out various combinations of the preceding.

    The “turn the concept 180 degrees” approach is the one that most often yeilds successful results. (If every other prior version ‘pushed’, what happens if we ‘pull’?)

  55. Culture medium for idea growth: intake enormous quantities of data by reading broadly across multiple platforms (internet, print, blog, radio news), all with varying viewpoints (to avoid confirmation of set position), eliminate your ability to forget useless data, swirl liberally in grey matter while quaffing moderate quantities of Sweetwater beer. Keep at optimal processing temperature of 98.6 deg. fahrenheit or sometimes slightly warmer. Review with friends if available or mutter to self while SO’s are not around.

    Primary compilation of ideas: That wonderful twilight processing time between the second and third time I hit the snooze button.

    Exposition of ideas: Select areas of the internet and other places where the best ideas are most likely to languish.

  56. I’m a sponge, picking up things from everywhere. But I have to say that the hours from 11:30pm to whenever I pack up for the night — my prime writing time — late night cable TV provides lots of really interesting random bits. Besides ideas for stories, I cannot tell you how many problems in my Physics exams come from something I just saw on the History-Discovery-Learning-SciFi-MSNBC-Turner Classic Movies-AMC-Food Network channels… (grin)

    Late night TV — it’s good and good for you!

    Dr. Phil

  57. This example is really short, but a fairly exact parallel with where I got the idea for the 1st Amendment poem. In this case, a sentence in a cosmology article in Discover magazine, flash of generalization, work by hand, show cross-references, submit in proper format, get colleague to program it in Maple. And there it goes online, on an edited site, with date-stamp and my email to keep developing the distributed network of colleagues. The killer app of the Web is collaborationware!

    A133850 Number of partitions of n into two primes and a semiprime. at AT&T Research Labs’ Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences.

    If you do follow the link, click on “list” to see it as a table,
    click on “graph” to see it plotted two different ways
    click on “listen” to run it through a page, written by David Applegate, which produces a MIDI file for the sequence using the settings shown.
    Changing the A-number in the first window will play a different sequence (although it will not change the page heading).
    Pitch modulus + pitch offset should be < 129, duration modulus + duration offset should be < 6.
    So I’ve, in a weird sense, composed over 1,800 melodies available free online! So the question “where do you get your ideas” can be very esoteric for musicians, since the dawn of the prepared piano and electronic music. Mozart did play dice with the universe.

  58. For me, it’s usually one of three things. The first is dreams— I actually won a contest with a short story that was almost entirely lifted from a dream. (The reason it took several years to write is that there was a large blank section in the middle. The irony is that the judge told me that the person I put in to fill it was a total cliché— and he was the only one fully based on a real person.)

    The second is juxtaposition. I firmly believe that Terry Pratchett came up with Pictsies after watching Braveheart and then seeing some Smurf memorabilia. It’s like my brain has a bunch of ratches and wheels that spin around and sometimes the combinations just make something very clear.

    My favorite example is a neologism: “Tuxidermy: The art of making stuffed shirts.” We were driving down the street, somebody said “taxidermy” (in a discussion of strange improv suggestions), and I looked up to see a Tux Store sign. Brain went flip-click, and hey! I had a new word. Feel free to credit me. :)

    The third is sheer contrariness. The best example I can give is a writing assignment in junior high where we were to write about “the mad scientist and his machine.” Keep in mind that our exposure to the topic was basically limited to old monster movies at this point. So the class brainstormed for a bit, coming up with things like “old,” “white haired,” and so on. For the first time in my life I went through a minor rebellion and immediately decided that my scientist was going to be young, cute, and popular. And my story was a hit with the whole class, therefore reinforcing the lesson.

    I still have that story somewhere. I keep it because it’s a perfect example of how a good eighth-grade story can still be pretty bad by objective standards. :)

  59. I am a clown/mime/dancer, I choreograph and create performance pieces in these mediums… I tend to draw my inspiration from three different places.

    1) Zoning out with a notebook in my lap and my eyes closed listening to various ambient compositions… usually either Brian Eno or Tim Hecker.

    2) Lying in bed trying to fall asleep with a notebook by the bed…. trying being the key word. My brain HATES turning off so this is when it starts fireing random crap and ideas at me nonstop. If a particularly good one comes along i jot it down real quick.

    3) Flipping through one of my Joan Miro print collections or going to an art museum (usually trying to find anything i can by Joan Miro) with a notebook in tow. For some reason his art inspires me like nothing else in this world.

  60. Ideas are easy. Brain is always free-associating off in random directions. Most of the time it’s as useful as a post (or roomfull of giggling teenagers). However, sometimes something burbles up to the surface in an unusuable form (bad pun, random phrase, two unconnected words for no good reason) that then starts me thinking and a few seconds later, there’s an actual idea there.

    I am thankful that the ideas flow can be largely ignored like background conversation, because when I get tired enough that I can’t it’s like standing in the middle of a mismash of Monty Python skits that won’t shut up. I imagine schizophrenics have something vaguely similar that they just can’t ever shut up, and I feel very sorry for them, especially the bright ones with active imaginations.

  61. Mostly, I just take passages from old, obscure reference books and literature and copy-and-paste them into my standard plotline.

    It’s worked pretty well so far. Recently, though, there’s been some trouble.

  62. I was raised to be a smart ass (thanks Dad!) and I think I’ve got just a couple screws loose, so those things go together to pop out some strange ideas that sometimes make me wonder what the heck is going on in my noggin.

  63. Are there really any new ideas in the world? Or just recycled old ones?

    Mine usually occur to me when I’m nowhere near a computer and have nothing to write them down on.

  64. Vengeance returned…. but as someone who is limited by talent to blog-comment-length work… I pretty much get my ideas from “whatever” you’re writing/talking about.

    Even the one time I went beyond 3 paragraphs or so… it:

    A) was to win a contest your magazine was sponsoring

    B) resulted in interracial space porn

    Anyhow…volley returned.

  65. I think obvious thoughts, lots of them. Very occasionally, the obvious is profound and new, perhaps because most people prune their lines of thought for ridiculousness, heuristically and incorrectly.
    Also, I steal ideas from biology. (500+ million years of competitive stochastic hack generation.)

  66. From you. Clearly.

    Failing that, there’s always the Alvernon Way, and bits of paper in restaurants. But the biggest source is my characters, when I’m not too lazy or discouraged to just sit down and work on the damn book.

%d bloggers like this: