Ideas Aren’t the Hard Bit, But Require Boredom

In a recent essay on his website, Neil Gaiman rails about the too-frequent question his fans ask: Where do your ideas come from?

Neil Gaiman

Firstly, Neil explains, people don’t like his explanation that he makes them up, “Out of my head”. But more importantly, ideas are not the “hard bit”.

“They’re a small component of the whole. Creating believable people who do more or less what you tell them to is much harder. And hardest by far is the process of simply sitting down and putting one word after another to construct whatever it is you’re trying to build: making it interesting, making it new.”

Then Gaiman was faced with the question posed during a talk with his 7-year-old daughter’s class. This time he decided to answer it as fully as possible.

“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…You get ideas when you ask yourself simple questions. The most important of the questions is just, What if…?”

“You get ideas from being bored…The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.”

We provide lots of opportunities for budding writers to learn and to write. I wonder, though: is there opportunity  for boredom in this connected culture?

Gaiman goes on to list and illustrate the many questions that spark ideas in the full essay: Where do you get your ideas?

See Gaiman’s booklist on Goodreads.

Via Open Culture


Filed under Books, Authors & Illustrators, Education

2 responses to “Ideas Aren’t the Hard Bit, But Require Boredom

  1. Oh, isn’t this good! I agree completely that ideas are the easy part, and the dynamic seems to be the same no matter what level you’re working on. (I’m no Gaiman!)

    I have 175 “drafts” in my WordPress file. Some are nearly completed and ready for publication, others are only a title, a few links, or a sketchy outline.
    But there they are, and there they sit until I get serious about the hard part – sitting down and actually doing something with them.

    When I started blogging five years ago, my great fear was that I’d run out of things to blog about. Nearly three hundred posts later, I’m still not out of ideas.

    And as for the boredom – people often ask if I don’t get bored at work, what with all that sanding and varnishing. To the contrary. With hours every day of unplugged time, I have an opportunity to think, muse, ponder, reflect… and get even more new ideas!

    Thanks for this wonderful post. I need to get more serious about the hard part in the New Year.

    • 175 drafts! Holy moly! That’s a lot of drafts. I suppose that might be akin to the writer’s notebook.

      I love that you sand and varnish for work. I did a little woodwork this summer and loved it. Sometimes not even thinking at all. I’ve often wondered what I could accomplish if I was a dishwasher – so much I’d like to do and so very little quiet time. Can a life be too full?

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