Where do ideas come from?

Posted on October 27, 2014

writing quote Orson Scott Card ideas for writers“Where do you get your ideas?”

I’m pretty sure that if you canvassed a group of authors this would be the number one question that each and every one of them is asked. And it’s probably one of the most difficult to answer.

As part of the preparation I’m doing for a series of author talks in schools, I’ve been putting together a writing workshop for kids on ‘Getting Started’, because I know that, for some kids, writing is torture. They’re given a blank sheet of paper and told to write a story on it. Most of the time, because teachers are awesome and clever people, there’s some kind of writing ‘prompt’ involved … but even that’s not enough in some cases.

So where do you start when, really, you’d rather not start at all?

When I talk to kids about this, I talk about how ideas are all around us. I discuss the fact that authors are not like super-magnets, attracting ideas out of the air like magic. Rather they are just people who’ve taught themselves to see the ideas that are there. I am always reminded of this quote by Orson Scott Card.

“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.”

Of course, I don’t mention Orson to the kids. But we discuss how you can get inspiration for a story from what’s around you, from conversations you’ve had, from things you’ve seen, from places you’ve been. I talk about how they should use the things that they know in their stories – if they take ballet classes, ride dirt bikes, surf on the weekends, play soccer, that all of these things can be used in their stories.

And then, I say, you need to ask yourself the single most important question a writer can ask: “What if?”

Today I did a talk at a local primary school for grades 3-5. They asked me a million questions and had a thousand ideas between them when it came to thinking about character and setting and ‘problems’ (aka plot).

It was inspirational.

Are you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of two epic middle-grade adventure series, The Mapmaker Chronicles and The Ateban Cipher. 

You can find out more about me here, and more about my books here

I’ve also got an online creative writing course just for kids aged 9-14. Find out more about it here.


  1. a.K.Andrew

    It’s a habit writers develop of looking at the world somewhat similar to photography actually. But random starts are also good too. Especially when you are starting out.

  2. Lani @ freezecheese

    Another insightful post! And congrats on the new book – such an achievement. Cheers, Lani

    Via weekend rewind 🙂

  3. Mel @ Coal Valley View

    This is wonderful Allison. My daughter in Year 4 loves writing stories and I can’t wait to tell her about implementing a bit of “what if?” in her writing. Such great advice. And congratulations on the success of your book, I saw it on the shelves in Dymocks the other day and had a little excitement burst x

  4. Erin

    All that synergy from the kids, would be inspirational indeed:) Love ‘what if”

  5. Amanda Kendle

    Oh, I so hope my Mr4 continues to have the billions of ideas that he currently does once school really takes over for him. Lovely post Al x

  6. Rachel_OurTownBrisbane

    All those ideas – how lucky those kids were to have you at their school giving them the opportunity to let them all out! Its sad that sometimes the time to have ideas and explore the “what if ” is sometimes lost to the necessity of the curriculum. That’s why I think its important to try and engage your littlies in those conversations at home – because like everything the ability to generate ideas improves with practice 🙂

  7. Maxabella

    That’s it, isn’t it! Combine a problem with a ‘what if’ and something totally new emerges. I bet the kids love your talk. x

  8. Annabel Smith

    When I first started writing, prompts were what trained my brain to see the story ideas that were already all around me. Now I have no need for prompts – I have more ideas than I know what to do with – but they are a wonderful training tool.

Pin It on Pinterest