Where do you get your ideas?
If you’re a writer, you probably just cringed. At least for me, it’s the single most common question I get asked, sitting right above “What, like a real writer, with books?” and “Wow, do you have a castle like J.K. Rowling?” Still, despite having answered this question a hundred times over, I always still groan on the inside when I hear it. Because it’s not a simple question to answer—and people tend not to like the real answer.
The truth about where I get my ideas? I steal them.
Okay, bear with me. I’m not talking about plagiarism, here. I’m not talking about taking someone else’s work and trying to make it mine. For writers, that’s something verging on cannibalism or incest, in terms of the level of horror it evokes. But what I mean is that my ideas come out of everything I consume.
I’m going to hand the mic over to a guy you may have heard of. He wrote some books that people kinda liked. Had a few movies, that sort of thing. He’s, you know, generally hailed as the father of modern fantasy. No big deal.
One writes such a story not out of the leaves of trees still to be observed nor by any means of botany and soil-science; but it grows like a seed in the dark out of the leaf-mould of the mind: out of all that has been seen or thought or read, that has long ago been forgotten, descending into the deeps.
Music, movies, friends, news, art, science, television, comics, other books… all of the stuff floating around that we read and see and hear every day, that stuff all gets consumed and digested in our minds, composted down into this rich, fertile soil, perfect for nurturing the little seedlings of creativity trying to grow there.
So don’t be surprised when the things that grow out of your imagination occasionally bear a resemblance to something you’ve seen before. It’s to be expected. The point is that you break it down in a way that’s unique to you, and you combine it with elements from other media and other stories in ways no one else can. We’re all telling the same stories—what makes our works unique is the way we choose to tell them.
There’s a quote that often gets bandied about in various forms, and attributed to various different people (T.S. Eliot and Pablo Picasso are the ones I’ve seen most often) that goes: “Good artists borrow; great artists steal.”
The idea being that of course things you consume intellectually are going to make their way into you work—but you have to own it, not secret it away guiltily, hoping no one notices. Transform it, shape it, weave it into the fabric of your story like it’s always been there. And don’t think about giving it back. And don’t be ashamed to admit to your influences, because they’re a part of who you are as much as they’re a part of what you write.
Want proof? Here is a list, in no particular order, of things that influenced me and the writing of Skylark—some are obvious, some less so, and some are things no one but me would’ve probably ever noticed. If I hadn’t just confessed to it, that is.
- The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
- Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog (Web Series)
- Sabriel by Garth Nix
- Contact by Carl Sagan
- Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
- Princess Mononoke Soundtrack
- Firefly (TV)
- NPR Op-ed pieces
And now, the giveaway!
You can click on the image for a close-up view. Swoonworthy, right? AND there’s something really special inside. Meg will be including pictures of her characters Lark and Oren–these aren’t available anywhere but inside the lockets, not even posted online, so you’ll be in on an exclusive! There’s only one other place you can win this prize–check out Meg’s Sky’s The Limit Contest to increase your chances.
Leave a comment telling us about your influences (or something you’ve stolen!) to enter! Contest is US only.
MEAGAN SPOONER is the author of Skylark, coming out August 1 from Carolrhoda Lab/Lerner Books. She is also the co-author of These Broken Stars, forthcoming from Disney-Hyperion in Fall 2013. She currently lives and writes in Northern Virginia, but the siren call of travel is hard to resist, and there’s no telling how long she’ll stay there. In her spare time she plays guitar, plays video games, plays with her cat, and reads. You can find Meg on Twitter, Facebook or on her blog tour, where there are lots of great prizes going!