All the time, I am asked where I get my ideas, or some variation thereof. Like, why did you write this story? How did you come up with the plotline? Is this based on your life?
To be entirely honest with you, I steal all of my ideas from daytime soaps. I write down a list of plot points like this while I am lounging and watching Days of Our Lives or whatever else: 1. Protagonist marries second-cousin twice-removed, 2. Secondary character is killed in mysterious car accident, actually kidnapped by satanic cult, 3. Alien pregnancy, 4. Antagonist gets stabbed by family matriach! Etc, etc. And then I get a twenty-sided die, and I roll. And that's how I come up with my plots. It's a bit melodramatic, but it works. Like sands through the hourglass, you guys.*
The real answer is ideas are very easy to come by. Every book I read and movie and TV show I watch and conversation I have or overhear and place I go and person I meet and song I listen to are filled with potential ideas. My thought process for coming up with a story is pretty much: Wouldn't it be cool if I wrote about this kind of person or this kind of event... and then Ah! And then this very dramatic thing happens... As a result I end up with stories that are tricky to write (My original book #2 was about a murder, but that will never see the light of day again. The new book #2 is about a bank robbery, because I thought how cool would it be if I wrote a book about a girl who takes her ex-boyfriend hostage in a bank robbery?). And then as I am writing, because I don't plan ahead a whole lot, I can incorporate every other idea that comes along. A chain of tiny ideas that become a novel.
Ideas are not the difficult part of the writing process, and the vast majority of the time, it doesn't matter if other people have written a similar idea already - one idea is just a tiny little seed of a story, and every writer will have different interpretation.
What I am not asked as often is why I write, which I think is a much better question. An idea will only take you so far. The reasons behind wanting to write are much more powerful, and what will get a book written and edited and maybe published and maybe give you a career (or life-long passion). Maybe the reason is because you really want to write that particular idea, but that's probably not all.
There are a lot of reasons I want to write fiction, instead of, say, painting, or becoming a carpenter, and they tend to shift and change all of the time, though a few remain consistent. Paintings and furniture have never really excited me as much as novels have, and every time I read a brilliant book I am struck by the feeling of wanting to replicate that in my own way, and create something that other people will enjoy.
And then there's a hundred more: I want to figure out how other people view the world. I want to make sense of the world for myself. I want to invent and create and this is the best way I know how. I want to have fun. (I forget about that one a lot.) I want to inspire other people. I want to make my family proud. I want to write really awesome books that make people laugh and cry and email me (seriously. Emails from people who love my book are the best thing).
There are other trickier things, like: I want to write something that outlives me. I want to be important. I don't want to be forgotten. I want these things, but they're entirely out of my control - I'm much better off writing because I want to write a story I would love to read, which is what motivated me in the first place. Sometimes I write because I want to make a living out of it. But that intimidates me a bit. Almost as much as wanting to write so as not to be forgotten.
I think if you're struggling as a writer, it's very useful to remind yourself of the many reasons why you want to write, the things you want to achieve. I don't think they should be wholly focused on financial gain, because money is a tricky thing to earn as a writer, and complicates the whole creative expression thing a lot. Another very handy thing to remind yourself of is this: Even if a thousand other people have the same idea as you (say, like my bank robbing girl book), your version of that story will be entirely unique, and yours alone. If the fact that no one else can write quite like you do isn't motivation to write, I don't know what will. Seriously, don't give up writing. If you are not already a writer of le fiction, I encourage you to take it up. It's difficult and great and sometimes terrible, but in the end it's worthwhile. You can create entire universes! It's brilliant.
*I don't actually watch Days of Our Lives. My true passion is Dr. Phil.
I want to know, writers: Why do you write?
And what do you say when people ask where you get your ideas?