Where do ideas come from? How do creatives "tune in" to the world around them? What is it about an idea that a writer grabs onto and just won't let go until it's written?
Inspiration to write is one thing - how to focus that inspiration is quite another.
Do not wait for the muse
The long and the short of it is: do not wait for the right mood to sit down and scrape together some ideas.
Do not wait for the muse.
Instead, put on your "writer's cap" even when out doing regular things, like shopping or going on a hike or sipping coffee and people-watching or stuck in traffic.
What some writers do
Some doodle or sketch.
Some wonder aloud, pacing in their bedrooms.
Some make bullet lists, blazing a trail they hope their later selves can follow.
Some actually blaze new trails, getting outside to free the mind.
Open yourself up to the possibilities, and the possibilities will come rushing in.
It's most often when you're paying attention in this way that a spark will start the flame of an amazing story. Call it a spark, or an insight, or a germ - the meaning is the same.
What if ... ?
Playing the "what if" game is not only fun, it's a crucial part of the creative process!
What if ... the helpless-looking girl knows how to take down a man twice her size?
What if ... the moon deviated from its orbit?
What if ... the insects got organized and waged war on humanity?
"What if ... ?" is one of the writer's best tools, early on especially but also throughout a writing project.
True does not mean interesting
"It really happened that way!" and "You can't make this stuff up!" and "I swear, it's true!" are often exclaimed by those who wrote something that had an impact on them, often to a reader who suggested the story is lacking, that it lacks impact.
It's difficult to sculpt the truth into what it ought to be for the story; thus, more often than not the writer strives to be faithful to the facts at the expense of the story.
True does not mean interesting.
In Hollywood, an old but powerful mantra is "never be boring" because ultimately the reader is the final and only judge who matters.
Yet what you hope to end up with will "present truth" to those reading your work, a story that is relevant, emotional and believable - not merely factually accurate.
Then allow the germ to die
The germ is a term for that "thing" that sparks the story. That couple you passed. That phrase you overheard. That story you saw on the news.
The best germs, properly cultivated, grow into compelling stories.
But here's the thing: most often, the original idea - the germ - must be abandoned for the final story to have a chance. Hanging on to "prove" or "make work" the germ is not worth it, especially when what was born and is growing is beyond that initial spark.
In gardens, it is the initial seed that gives life to the flourishing plant - yet that seed forms no part of the final product.
As vital as the germ is for the development of the story, it is equally important to know when to let the germ die - for the sake of the greater story!