Where Does it Come From, Where Does it Go?

Blog No. 36

Philip K. Dick was often asked where he got his ideas from.  I’ve always found his answer interesting.  In the introduction to one of his story collections he wrote:

“The stories in this collection are attempts at reception–at listening to voices from another place, very far off, sounds quite faint but important. They only come late at night, when the background din and gabble of our world have faded out. Then, faintly, I hear voices from another star. Of course, I don’t usually tell people this when they ask, ‘Say, where do you get your ideas?’ I just say I don’t know. It’s safer.” 

I’m no famous author, but the answer Dick gave has always made me wonder where my ideas come from.  There are the obvious answers that most artists and even engineers can give.  We are inspired by the world around us.  Nature or your city, or job, or school or home or the dreams you have, all the things that influence us provides the substance for our ideas.  But what is it that gives me the idea for a story and someone else the idea for a new machine, or no ideas at all?  I can write a story about anything, why can’t others?  Why can’t I draw or make new machines?  Where does it come from?

I have had ideas for stories long before I was a reader or wanted to be a writer.  They came from playing and imagining myself as someone else or even me in a different situation.  It’s something that I’m sure all kids do and probably most grownups do too.  I just couldn’t turn it off.  I wasn’t a constant day-dreamer as much as I was always in a world of my own.  I was a loner as a child (not much has changed) and I built a world to live in and have never fully left it.

When I was in high school I started reading Philip K. Dick and everything changed.  I felt like I found someone who lived the way I did.  He was a man who lived in his written worlds, he was plainly in every story I read.  That’s what I did, even before I wrote the stores down (or at least the outline).  I started to become a reader and that started me wanting to tell the stories I would tell myself to others.  I had ideas, maybe not as good as those I read in Dick’s stories, but I wanted to share them with people.  I wanted to make others think the way he made me think.

But the question remains, did he actually hear voices, was it just the quiet letting his mind create, was it something to do with the late night lack of sleep that inspired dream-like ideas?  The quote is rather specific with the time of night and the lack of clamor.  I’m sure he believed that he was hearing voices from another star, but I think it was the same sort of thing that happens in the shower.  As soon as the mind is free and focused on the mundane the ideas flow (I’m giving myself 50 points for the metaphor).  Also, what about that part about why I get ideas for stories and someone else gets ideas for car designs?  Is it something inherent about the person or has it developed over time?

I truly believe that if I had no interest in telling stories I would still get the ideas.  I can’t seem to stop.  I’ve mentioned may times about my trouble sticking with one story because of all the other ideas I get for new stories (and they always look so shiny and bright).  Since I have been working on Adventure Wolds I have been using the new ideas as incentive to finish the one I am currently working on.  I don’t let myself start the new ideas until I finish the current one.  Sometimes that gives me time to see that the new ideas isn’t even that good, it’s just new.

Where do ideas come from?  I still haven’t figured that out.  I think it’s a mix of the internal workings of the person and the outside voices.  We are tuned to find the ideas (in whatever manor we each work) and our world provides the inspiration.  The more you experience (as I talked about last week) the more ideas you get.  In the same vain, the more you read the more you write.  Unfortunately that sometimes leads to inadvertently stolen ideas, but that’s been going on since the dawn of communication.  (All we can do there is try to be conscious and apply self restraint).  But that doesn’t stop me from reading.  I find I am always more creatively charged the more I read.  Reading is what lead me to my writing goals (I wish I could command the prose of Al Purdy and the ideas of PKD) but the ideas are all my own.  I found them scattered all around me.

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2 thoughts on “Where Does it Come From, Where Does it Go?

  1. JO

    I have been gardening at my house for ten years now. It was a drive way when I started, and I picked the stones out by hand. First few years I got small harvests. But then with the addition of much home-made compost things really took off. I have huge crops and seeds from previous years germinate also. Flowers and vegetables everywhere. With all the rain this year the weeds are tall and thick, and I am struggling to get things back in order.

  2. Is that where you harvest your ideas?
    That is a huge undertaking, but a very dignified one. I remember my grandmother weeding her garden. She had a lot of garden and it was always a big chore for her, but one I think she didn’t mind doing as much as she let on. I have always wanted to grow a garden, but I don’t have any real drive to do it. I am happy with my spider plants.
    I hope you have the time to get it in shape, and I hope you only mind the work as much as my grandmother did.

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