The other, much more common inquiry is, Where do you get your ideas from?
Leaving aside the obvious, 'Class A drugs, actually,' or, 'A wee man in Auchter-
muchty,' I've sometimes wondered what sort of answer people really expect to this. What
class of possible reply are people anticipating, or are they completely in the dark regard-
ing the creative process?
The answer, by the way, is startlingly simple; writers get their ideas from the same
place as everybody else. When asked The Question by an individual, it's perfectly okay
to look them in the eye and say, 'Well, the same place as you do.' This usually leads to
people saying they don't have ideas.
But everyone does. Everybody has ideas. If you've ever had a sexual fantasy that
wasn't a perfect copy of somebody else's - you've had an idea. If you've ever thought
about what you'd do if you won the Lottery - you've had an idea. If you've ever passed
some time pondering the exact form of words you would use - having just heard from
your bank that the Lottery cheque has cleared - to tell your boss or colleagues how much
you have enjoyed working with them over the years - you've had an idea. If you've ever
read a book or watched a film and thought, But what if this had happened instead of that -
you've had an idea. If you've ever been walking down the road with lurid red kebab sauce
dripping onto your good shoes when you suddenly think of the stingingly witty reply you
should have come out with half an hour earlier in the pub, when somebody insulted you
or said something you wanted to take issue with but couldn't quite work out what it was
you wanted to say at the time - then you've had an idea.
Some of these ideas would qualify as rudimentary plots, some as lines of dialogue,
but they are all ideas and everybody has them. If there is some benighted, possibly genet-
ically deficient part of humanity that genuinely doesn't ever have an idea of this nature,
ever ever ever , then they surely constitute a vanishing tiny minority of our species, and as
far as I know I've never met one of them.
The difference is simply that writers do this idea-generating sort of stuff more fre-
quently and more consistently than the sort of person who doesn't realise that they even
have ideas of their own, and - perhaps more to the point - we do it deliberately. We
mostly start doing it when we're quite young and it becomes a habit; we're always on the
lookout for ideas, whether they're generated by our own lives, by the lives of people we
know, by the lives of people we don't know - via reports in news media - or by the works
of other writers - non-fiction works as well as fiction.
Where do I get my ideas from? Here's an example:
In 1978 I went on holiday to the States. I had an uncle in Washington DC and an aunt
in Los Angeles and to get from one to the other I decided to try one of these drive-away
schemes where you drive somebody's car from one coast to the other for them (mean-