The Big Question

It's a question that has become a joke amongst writers. You assume that the person asking you the question is devoid of any creativity. Certainly no self-respecting writer or wannabe writer would catch themselves asking the question in question. Still, maybe it's a question that bears some analysis. So, get down from your high horse and ask yourself...

Where do you get your ideas from?

The answer, in case you are wondering, should be "everywhere". The job of a writer is to be a sponge; soaking up information, fab facts and characters wherever they may go. You should be exposing yourself (metaphorically not physically) to everything that the world has to offer.

Now, I realise that sounds tiring. We are writers after all; we took the job so that we wouldn't have to leave the house. Or wear shoes every day. I'm not suggesting you go all Bruce Parry and strap on your rucksack. However, make sure you are not closing yourself off to those crazy moments of sparking inspiration when an overheard conversation or a one-paragraph story in the Metro sets you off on one of those brilliant flights of fancy. You know what I mean. When you have to jump up and turn on the bedside lamp and grab a pen? When your pencil won't move quickly enough across your page? Yeah, that glorious thing.

But there are also the dead times. The head-on-desk days when your muse has deserted you and you feel like you are pushing the same dusty, boring characters around the page. That's when you need to go out and meet some new ones.

Take a ride on the top deck of a bus and make sure you leave your MP3 player at home. Earwig, eavesdrop and generally be a nosey parker. Do some people watching and not just at your regular overpriced coffee shop. Go to the dodgiest looking pub in town. Go to your local market. Spend a day in the crown courts or at a council meeting.

Obviously, be sensitive and have some respect. I don't want to hear about anyone sitting in on an AA meeting or hanging about at an STD clinic looking for ideas for a Doctors episode. Being a writer excuses a lot, but it doesn't excuse you being a douchebag.

And also, don't go out in a desperate frenzied search for an idea, pencil and pad in hand. Looking for new ideas is a bit like looking for a snog at the school disco. If you're too desperate, you'll repel ideas. Or you'll end up slow dancing to Careless Whisper with the boy with terminal acne and paint-stripper breath. Or was that just me?

Be the sponge. Just accept that you're going to soak in the inspiration only for it to surface when it's needed.

It's also worth taking a long hard look at your viewing, reading and listening habits. Do you only watch films of a certain type? It doesn't matter if you're a hard core Jennifer Aniston romcom fan or you only watch black and white French films. Try to open yourself up to new stories and new ways of telling those stories. Watch the classics, but don't get too hung up on the fanboy arguments about whether Star Wars is a better film than Citizen Kane. It doesn't matter! Watch 'em both and see how they tell stories.

It's totally Citizen Kane by the way. Moving on...

The same goes for the telly box. Don't dismiss certain genre because you think they are too populist. You should be watching soaps, medical dramas and cop shows to see why they are so enduring. Don't be a box set snob. Also, don't just watch the national news. There some great small, human stories on local news. Just because they don't make the front page, it doesn't mean they don't have impact or jeopardy.

Of course, we have a great source of quirky stories and incredible, inspirational factual programming broadcasting 24/7, free to air in the UK. It's Radio 4. Now, don't get me wrong I can't listen to it when I'm writing or driving (it's all about the Glee soundtrack in my car). But recently I retuned the radio in my kitchen to Radio 4 and I've heard amazing stories and great research material. I only dip in and out, but it's all going into my brain bank for a rainy day.

Remember, there is an unlimited supply of ideas out there. It's just that only some people are open to them. We call them writers.

Lisa Holdsworth is a TV writer who has written episodes of Fat Friends, Emmerdale, New Tricks, Robin Hood and Waterloo Road. Read her blog - Deadlines and Diamonds.


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