This question is perhaps the most loaded of all the questions an unpublished writer asks a published one. Just about every writing book I’ve read addresses this question, from Writing For Comics With Peter David, Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing by David Morrell, even Stephen King’s On Writing.
As is often the case, there is no simple answer for the aspiring writer. It’s a little bit of everything tossed into a bowl, mixed, turned into something called imagination, and then the process repeats. In my experience my ideas often come late at night when I’ve decided to stop writing and go to bed. It’s odd that, in the time I decide to quit, a flurry of ideas jump into my mind and must be written down.
Though, I should state that the next day, after some deliberation, I find that at least half of these ideas don’t have the weight to be pursued further. Such is the writer’s dilemma: Often ideas shouldn’t be pursued, and what makes a writer successful or unsuccessful is the decision on which ideas to pursue.
Noted author Peter David (who has written comics like Hulk and Spider Man, novels on Battlestar Galactica and Babylon 5, to name a few) said that the original assumption of how to handle something is usually familiar to the writer from another work – therefore it should not be used.
“One becomes a writer,” Peter David wrote, “because the ideas keep coming to you, whether you want them or not.” That’s a broad idea, as many people have plenty of ideas but have yet to get published. Still, it’s a true thought on how to be a writer.
Since just about everything has been done before, worrying about if your story is original enough isn’t always necessary; just don’t directly steal from other writing. I once was at a writer’s convention and saw a writer named Robert Bittner speak. He said that worrying about getting wholly original ideas is a mistake that slows down many writers. You don’t need to be entirely original if the writing is composed well, though a few original thoughts never hurt a piece.
Stephen King was always looking to his own past for material. You can see this in the way he often goes back to his childhood like in the novel IT or some of his short stories. Hemingway said everyone has at least one good book in them. I think each of us can write more than one if we draw upon our experiences enough, and maybe a few short stories as well.
There is a magical place where ideas come from and it’s called the imagination. For most of us, it was strong in youth. The trick is remembering, deciding how best to utilize the memory, and putting it on the printed page.
The ideas are never the problem for the serious writer, as they have many. This shouldn’t be the most asked question as it’s the most useless in terms of helping the writer. It’s unlikely that the answer for the question of ideas will solve your own dilemma.