Where Do Creative Ideas Come From?

Okay, you say, I’ll bite … where do great 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 most successful rock band in history, The Beatles, used a formula to create blockbuster songs. They’re not the only ones. Many artists, songwriters and authors … yes, authors, use templates of some form.

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.

We tend to think of inventors like this as another species … geniuses … who have sudden flashes of insight.

I’ve written several award-winning books myself, but I can’t think of a single instance when a light bulb went off in my head, leading to some killer new idea.

Is that because creatively I’m a dud?

Perhaps. Alternatively, it might be because Eureka Moments are the stuff of legend, and innovation is often a slow and iterative process.

What, exactly, is involved in said process? One decades-old theory says that the crux of creativity lies in making analogies.

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

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 it is in the active engagement of the artist with the world that ideas are born:

    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 one 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.


My books have all garnered some terrific reviews, and you can see the ones I have available by using the Amazon link below. Look for them. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now amazon

You’re invited to visit my web site, BROKEN GLASS, or
like my Book of Face page. You can find me on Goodreads, or follow some of my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.


Visit my web site to hear the remarkable radio interview about my novel “Blood Lake” by The Authors Show.


I plan to attend the next Rochester Writers’ Fall Conference at Oakland University on Saturday, October 21, 2017.


A few days ago (June 27), my bride and I celebrated our 47th Wedding Anniversary. Thank you, Mary Lu. I love you.


Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

Tags: , ,

9 Responses to “Where Do Creative Ideas Come From?”

  1. Anne Clare Says:

    Your list made a great deal of sense- thanks for sharing! If I were to add one more bullet point for myself, it would be “Alone Time.” Surrounded by small children, all of my best ideas germinate in those rare moments of quiet! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Don Massenzio Says:

    Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog and commented:
    Check out this insightful post from the Painting With Light blog on the origin of creative ideas.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. hellojenbug Says:

    Good one! Yes…execution is difficult.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mary Hackstock Says:

    Nice post. I always learn something new reading your posts. The Beatles really were amazing writers, not just musicians…that is a point many people probably overlook! Thanks Ron. Love

    Sent from my iSlate


    Liked by 1 person

Please Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: