Author’s Corner: Creative Ideas

So, Where Do Creative Ideas Come From?

The answer might surprise you.

In Paul McCartney’s biography, he shared this secret: “… John often had just the first verse, which was always enough. It was the direction … the signpost … the inspiration for the whole song. I hate the word, but it was the template.”

In other words, The Beatles, the most successful rock band in history, used a template to create blockbuster songs. They’re not the only ones. For instance, Agatha Christie, one of the best-selling authors ever, wrote over 60 novels by using a template to help structure her thinking in a way that made her more creative.

So, if it isn’t a magic formula, what, exactly, is involved in said process? One decades-old theory says that the crux of creativity lies in making analogies.


Yes, just as those SAT questions you used to hate; Crumb is to bread as … splinter is to wood. That kind of thing.

Herron sits at a table with his books displayed

Author R.L. Herron

Two Schools of Thought

Creative people, so the theory goes, are constantly connecting old knowledge and experiences to new situations. There are two schools of thought about where ideas come from.

One is the artist-as-antenna concept, in which ideas float in some barely perceptible ether waiting for someone to pick them up, the way a radio picks up a song when it’s tuned to just the right frequency. This is Keith Richards waking up in the middle of the night with the main riff from Satisfaction fully formed in his head.

The second school holds that ideas are the product of hard work and thoughtful concentration. Sit down and think, and don’t get up until you have something. This school is the writer grinding out his four pages a day, or the mad poet storming up-and-down the street in search of the perfect word.

The reality is probably somewhere in the middle. We get ideas from within ourselves and from without or, more to the point, from the interaction of the two.

I believe the active engagement of the artist with the world is where ideas are born, given life by some very identifiable processes:

Preparation: Ideas come to those who are prepared to receive them, whatever the origin. Scientists have ideas about science. Accomplished musicians have melody ideas that translate into beautiful songs, and skillful writers create daring novels that illuminate our lives … but those who haven’t prepared themselves to be creative rarely are.

Attention: Paying attention to the world around us is a major source of ideas. You’ve heard the saying that “necessity is the mother of invention” – but it also takes someone paying close enough attention to recognize that need in the first place.

Curiosity: Creativity often comes from the drive to understand and take things apart, literally or figuratively. It stems from the desire to know “what if …” and to follow that question until it goes somewhere interesting.

Effort: Creativity takes a commitment to work. “Ideas are cheap,” the saying goes. “Execution is hard.” Ideas need to be captured, followed up on, and committed to a plan of action, or they disappear back to wherever they came from … and they rarely come back.

Serendipity: Serendipity is really two things. First, it’s what you might expect … the luck of being at the right place at the right time … to be Isaac Newton under the tree at exactly the moment the apple falls.

The second, more important part is the openness to make connections between unrelated events … to see in a bathtub a lesson about physics. How many millions of baths were taken before Archimedes had his “Eureka!” moment?

These aren’t God-given gifts reserved to the few. These are all things each of us, as writers, can cultivate. They apply to just about everyone who faces situations calling for creative responses.

Start making a conscious effort to develop these elements, and I bet you’ll soon start engaging with your world more creatively. In fact, I’m certain it will show up when you write.

About R.L. Herron

R.L. Herron, the author of multiple works of fiction, including several Readers' Favorite medal winners, lives and writes in Michigan with his lovely wife, and a finally-paid mortgage. His books are all available on Amazon and online with Barnes & Noble. Visit Author R.L. Herron's Website, Broken Glass.

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