The Five Ws for Ideas and Inspiration

The other day, I was conversing with my friend who bemoaned the fact that she had difficulty coming up with ideas, save that rare spark occurring once or twice a year. This is often the case for many artists: when inspiration strikes, brilliant! when it doesn’t, then oh, well, what should I do?

And inspiration, being the marvellous bastard it is, only shows up occasionally, like the black sheep of the family who only turns up at Christmas for the free food and presents. But we still love that black sheep, don’t we? Which means it requires a bit lot of effort on our part to cajole that sly deviant to show its face more frequently.

Today, I’m going to address the questions people often ask me: ‘Who / What / Where do you get your ideas from? When / Why do you get your ideas?’


© Kimberly Butler

I’ll begin with a quote from Neil Gaiman:

You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.

It’s never the fact that you don’t get ideas. I’ll reiterate Gaiman: You get ideas all the time. Ultimately, it boils down to just how motivated, how willing you are to make an effort each day to notice what most people usually do not. It’s acquiring an active, and not a passive outlook on life, both yours’ and others’.

Be curious. Be observant. Be lieve. (Hah.)

  • Who do you get your ideas from?
© vladm/shutterstock

© vladm / Shutterstock

Every person in this world has their own story. I do. You do. As much as I love talking about myself and my story, it’s only 1 out of 7 billion, so I make it a habit to observe and listen carefully to others.

Who is that person? What does she or he do? Why does she or he say those things in that way? I try and notice things people usually don’t notice, or things people don’t give a second thought to because it’s so familiar, so routine. Next time you’re travelling to school or work and see that boy who’s always playing alone in the park, instead of ignoring him, wonder with genuine curiosity: what’s his story?

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t draw inspiration and ideas from the people closest to me: friends, family, teachers, co-workers, etc. Just look at my short story ‘Seiko’s Minor God‘ recently published by Inkapture (humour me, I don’t have much to plug so I’m making do with what I have; please read and share!) – though the characters are fictional, I did steal the names Gary and Naoko from my lovely friends, who uncannily just happened to be an English guy and Japanese girl couple! No, really, any similarities are coincidental.

I hope this won’t stop my friends from talking with me in the future. Think of it this way – you might end up appearing in my stories! although I can’t necessarily guarantee you’ll be a good, righteous, moral character. Cough.

  • What do you get your ideas from?


All of my stories are influenced by personal experience. This doesn’t mean they’re all autobiographical, but they are sure to contain a certain aspect of personal experience, whether an event, an emotion and thought, or moral and value I’ve attained over the course of my life.

Also other people’s personal experiences. If I find a similar life experience shared by me and others (the more people, the better and reassuring), I’ll likely draw upon that as a source for ideas since it’s bound to resonate with a lot of people. Depression? Identity crises? Dysfunctional families? True love? Wanderlust? The possibilities are endless.

  • When do you get your ideas?
Maybe I should get myself one of these.

Maybe I should get myself one of these.

3 consistent moments come to mind: when I’m out walking, when I’m showering, when I’m trying to fall asleep.

As you probably noticed, these are all extremely ill-timed instances because there’s no easy way to jot down your brilliant ideas. I’m not surprised though; these all involve doing something entirely second nature, giving the mind the complete freedom to crank and whirl and generate.

The first is relatively easy: when an idea pops into mind as I’m walking down the street, I immediately take out my iPhone and quickly type it in my notes, which works fine as long as you take care not to bump into people or cars. The third too: I sleep with my iPhone next to my pillow, just in case I wake up at 2:38 am with a nagging thought which I have to take down.

But the second, now that’s a challenge. In fact, 90% of the details in this very blog post came to me while I was showering, which required chanting them repeatedly so as not to forget while quickly drying off, slipping into my underwear and scampering into my room to type them out before they slipped my mind. More than you will like, inspiration often strikes at the most inconvenient of times – thus the need for effort.

It will differ for each person. Maybe you’ll get ideas the first thing when you wake up in the morning; maybe when you’re idly twirling your pencil during a boring lecture; maybe when you’re being slowly rocked by the train on the way to work.

Jot down everything at any time. It’s a waste to wait for that utterly inspiring this-is-it! idea, which do exist, but realistically only happens every now and then.

  • Where do you get your ideas from?

© jusco15 / Instagram

Mainly Japan and the UK, specifically Tokyo and Durham, respectively. These are my main ‘homes’ and the ones I’m most familiar with. But once you realise that the most familiar of places can also be the most unfamiliar, you’ll unlock a valuable key and your eyes will be opened.

I consciously notice my surroundings, assigning colourful descriptions to everything that comes into sight. On a train in Japan, staring out the window, observing every nook and cranny of beautiful buildings, both modern and traditional; walking down an unexplored street, noticing hidden landmarks and garish signs; sitting on a bench with a cup of peppermint tea staring at the sunset, orange with vivid blue shades, serving as a backdrop to the magnificence of Durham Cathedral.

Whenever I visit a new place or country, my eyes are always on the lookout, searching for details, for things tourists pass over and only locals would know about. Just like people, each place in the world has its own unique, fascinating story.

  • Why do you get your ideas?

Because I believe my ideas, my stories, my writing can change the world. And I’m not being foolishly idealistic.

Everything is an idea. We live in a world of ideas, of ideals, constructed and evolved since man’s ambitious way of thinking the world is at the disposal of its inhabitants, that it can be altered by a solitary thought with the potential to grow and expand into something more, to make the impossible possible. If you think about it, at the time, issues like lack of women’s rights and racial slavery seemed set in stone forever; yet look at where we are now. And it all started because someone dared to have an idea, someone dared to dream.

Believe in your ideas. Believe in them so strongly that you won’t rest or be satisfied until you see them come to fruition, whether in the way you initially envisioned or in another way that is even more influential. If you lack confidence about an idea, jot it down regardless and keep it for sometime in the future. It might be a great idea but it might also not be the right time for you to deal with it, maybe because of your current season in life. But when the timing is right, that idea will be perfect.

Believe that your ideas can change the world. Believe that your ideas will resonate with someone, that someone out there is looking, or is not looking, for those ideas to be voiced, and either way, will be pleasantly surprised and delighted that you have done so.

Be curious. Be observant. Be lieve. (You can probably tell I’ve grown quite fond of this.)

It’s a misconception to say writers have to be reclusive and anti-social. Go out, interact and encounter the world.

You want ideas? You want inspiration? It’s all around you.


8 thoughts on “The Five Ws for Ideas and Inspiration

  1. “3 consistent moments come to mind: when I’m out walking, when I’m showering, when I’m trying to fall asleep.”

    “It’s a misconception to say writers have to be reclusive and anti-social. Go out, interact and encounter the world.”

    True, and true. Like you said, interacting with people and places is a great source of inspiration. Also, I find I get tons of ideas while driving. One time I was on the road and a poem I’d been wanting to write for years started forming in my head and I had to pull over and write it out. xD

    Liked by 1 person

  2. All true. And then there’s also the actual act of writing. Like for a professional musician, athlete,…even, dare I say, teacher. Whether inspiration has shown up or not. I’ve heard/read 2 professional writers say a given book was pure inspiration–like taking dictation. All the rest say it’s about butt in the chair, fingers on the keyboard, every day (or 5 or 6 days a week) at a certain time, or for a certain amount of time, and after 40 years, you find you’ve gotten better. (And they really hate those 2 writers.) But that’s another blog post. Good ideas for getting ideas. がんばって。

    Liked by 1 person

    • Although I’m more inclined to side with the rest, I do believe in a healthy balance of both. I have experienced a few bouts of ‘pure inspiration – dictation’ which are entirely plausible but yes, inspiration without effort doesn’t translate into anything. Now inspiration + effort, that’s a deadly combination.


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