That, or a variation of it, is one of the most frequently asked questions a writer gets—from non-writers.
The most frequently heard answer, at least from all of the authors Sam Knight has been around when he heard it asked of them? A variation on “How do you not have ideas?”
The fundamental difference between a writer, and someone who is not, is of course, writing. But why? Because it is an obsession. Really. Some people fantasize about being a movie star, but they never go audition for a role. They never take an acting class (at least not one beyond that one time they had to in school…). They never try to go to functions to meet producers.
So, why then is it surprising that people who never sit down and write more than a first chapter, or half of an outline (or maybe not even that much) are mystified as to why they can’t be a writer, too?
Writing is three things. 1) It’s an obsession. 2)It’s a job. 3)It’s hard.
If a person doesn’t have the obsession, its really difficult for them to last very long in any job requiring writing, especially if it is anything beyond something like transcribing or writing technical manuals (and that is a whole different torture demon).
If they do have the obsession, they may find themselves thinking about it all the time. “That would make a great movie/book/story!” “That would be a great title!” “What if all the cats, dogs, rabbits, and hamsters died? What would people keep for pets then? What if they all decided they wanted luminescent jellyfish so they all built their houses with walls made of aquariums and then they didn’t need light bulbs anymore and Sylvania went out of business and Lg took over the world and then there was a monopoly on light bulbs so people made themselves luminescent so that they didn’t need them?”
If these kinds of thoughts float through your head, you may be a writer.
When those kinds of thoughts reach a critical mass, you need an outlet for them.
Other kinds of obsessions lead to writing, too.
Things like wanting to be a journalist. Most of them want to report, to tell the world what is really going on. Used to be, this almost always led to writing in order to scratch the obsessive itch. Now, it rarely leads to newspapers, but it can still lead to blogging and e-zines.
Cooks write cookbooks, quilters write quilting books, political analysts write stuff most people can’t understand. In most cases, it is the obsession with something that leads to the writing. The obsession requires the person to find a way to disseminate information.
Rarely does the obsession with writing itself come into play. When that does, it seems you have found someone who compulsively journals, or in this day and age, blogs/Tweets/Facebooks. These people rarely look for ideas on what to write, as they are already compulsively writing.
So who is it coming up to writer’s and asking where they get their ideas?
Dreamers. People who like to imagine what it would be like to be … a movie star. A hobbit. President of the United States. Or anything else that is out of place in their ordinary lives. People who like to read, who like to be entertained, who like to escape their lives for a few minutes and enter someone else’s magical world.
Basically all of us. We all ask that question.
The thing is, we ask it of the people who are obsessed with it, because we don’t understand their obsessions, only our own. So then we want to know how.
“Where do you get your ideas?” “Where do you find such raw emotion to portray that character on stage?” “How did you survive the jungle for three months to get that story?” “How could you endure that kind of physical training to become an astronaut?”
They really are all the same question, just asked differently. What everyone really wants to know is: “Explain your obsession to me, so that I can understand what motivates you.”
Okay, disclaimer time again. Sam Knight is having a terrible time writing blogs in third person. He always considered this forum to be more of a ‘fireside chat’ type thing, intending it to be personable and friendly. It will be, oh yes, it will be. Even if I have to keep admitting down here on the bottom every time that I wrote it in third person for the search engines to find my, I mean Sam Knight’s, name.