Thursday, January 23, 2014

No Stupid Questions, Only Stupid Answers

by Alan

What’s wrong with asking, “Where do you get your ideas?”

First, a little explanation about the question, “Where do you get your ideas?”

If you’ve never been to a writing conference or convention, or a book festival, you’re missing out. They’re great places for meeting other writers, meeting readers, learning about books, learning about writing, and learning about the hotel bar. One of the staples at a book event is the “authors panel,” which brings together four or five writers to talk (ostensibly) about a certain topic.Malice panel from Sasscer

When I’m on a panel, my goal is to be entertaining (read: funny). I don’t always succeed, but I do try (that’s me in the photo, as panel referee, er moderator, at Malice Domestic, calling some sort of penalty on Sasscer Hill). After the panel discussion is finished, the audience generally gets a chance to ask some questions of the writers, and invariably someone will ask where we (writers) get our ideas.

It happens so frequently that it’s become an “inside joke” among the writers. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the question—in fact, I think it’s a pretty good question. I just wish I had a better answer.

Because I DON’T KNOW WHERE I GET MY IDEAS. They just pop into my head, when I’m sitting in my car, taking a shower, reading the newspaper, daydreaming, watching TV, eating, cooking, shopping, sleeping (yes, I once woke up with an awesome idea). My problem is not a dearth of ideas; it’s a lack of time to write about them all.

Remember, as my grade school teachers used to say: there’s no such thing as a stupid question.

Just my stupid answer.


Lori Rader-Day said...

This is great, and I love that photo.

E.A. Aymar said...

Nice post and great photo! I need to attend one of your moderated panels (bucket list).

Catriona McPherson said...

Couldn't agree more. I've always suspected that writers dislike the question because the answers aren't impressive. Not that "in the shower" is unimpre- ehh, too late.

Alan Orloff said...

I run a tight panel. And I love to blow my whistle!

Gwen Mayo said...

I always tell would be writers taht I get mine from the idea bank. It is my own special idea place, hidden away on my jump drive. When I have good ideas and no time to write, I deposit a note there. When I've finished a project and need an idea for another I go have a look at my bank and make a withdraw.

Unknown said...

I wonder about the asker of the question. Sometimes, there is a really good story about where someone got their idea, but mostly, it's just a matter of collecting bits of life in a jar and writing it out.

Is the person who asks hoping there is a good story to go with the good story, or do they want to write and think getting the ideas is the hard part, or do they simply want to connect with a writer and that feels like a supportive way to reach out? Or something else?

I really am curious. And I do love that photo, Alan.

Alan Orloff said...

Gwen - I used to tell people I got them at the Idea Store. But I suspect people thought I was being flip. Actually, I just "misread" the Ikea sign (the good ideas are located on a shelf, just past the Frugen Slad bookcase display).

Jess - I think some people want to be writers "if only they could get a good idea." As you and I know, it's all about the execution, baby!

Gwen Mayo said...

Alan-There's an Ikea in Tampa. I'll have to check to see if they have a better selection of ideas than my little bank. You can never have too many good ideas.

Seriously though, you are dead on about execution being the key. Hand the same basic idea to a dozen good writers and you will get a dozen different good stories.

Paul D. Marks said...

Good piece, Alan. And love the pic. Did you throw down a flag? But you know I bought the Frugan Salad at IKEA and there were no shelves or ideas. Just kale. Where did I go wrong?

Alan Orloff said...

You're not alone, Paul. Many people mistake the Slad for the Salad.