"Where do you get your ideas?"
How many times have we author-types been asked that question? Lots!
Except for those glum days during which there occurs no sensible, intriguing notion whatsoever, ideas seem to everywhere.
In headlines: A solitary fall guy breaks the sound barrier in the course of a 24-mile sky dive. Men, who are certain that they are doing the will of God, shoot a young girl for the crime of wanting an education. A gigantic space craft is s-l-o-w-l-y traveling the streets of Los Angeles. Who could fail to conjure compelling back stories, scientific elaborations, explanations, social studies, what-ifs, and boggling-but-true tales out of material like that?
On the calendar, chockablock with factoid-stuffed dates, each one being an opportunity to retell or introduce what happened? And why? We're not quite two years out from the 100th anniversary of the summer when a relative handful of bullheaded diplomats plunged Europe into wasteful, mega-tragic and deadly war. 2014 makes two hundred years since British troops went on a rampage, all carrying torches for the capital of that rebellious bunch, thought-they-were-so-smart.
In books and other places the written word is found, but specifically I mean those times when you're researching a topic and come across an incidental character or event. A paragraph about a half-forgotten explorer or a bit of everyday heroism or a small technological breakthrough and It's as if you're traveling and you say, "Let's turn here and see where that road goes!"
It could be an overheard bit of conversation or a chancing upon a roadside marker. It could be sheer admiration: being caught up in someone else's wonderful writing and finding yourself thinking I want to do a book like that. And the thought's shadowy sidekick: I wonder if I could. Suddenly there's a spark. It's not for nothing that the word enthusiasm comes from the old Greek terms enthousiasein or entheos: God-possessed. A spirit has found entrance. And you find yourself hitting the library, your fingers tapping from one site to another. Jotting down notes. Staring out the window.
Still. Enthusiasm makes a swell servant, but a questionable master.
Too many Ideas and you can find yourself like a fly at a picnic, first lighting on the potato salad then lured by the scent of hot dogs. Buzzing over to the pickle relish. And there's the second-guessing: Does this idea have legs? Will it sell? Would anyone - anyone? – want this? [Everyone seems to be fast with a fly-swatter these days.] No, this idea's stupid - better try that one over there.
Ideas? They are rather like souls to the old prophet: "Many are called, but few are chosen." Matt. 22:14.
Where do you get your ideas?
No wonder the question's asked so often. It's a darned good one.
Here's another: How do you know if an idea is any good?
I reckon it's a question of faith, the substance of books unseen.