When prolific author Harlan Ellison is asked where he gets his ideas, his response?
“Schenectady. They have them on a shelf in a Mom & Pop on Route 147.”
It’s a great quote. I mean, Schenectady is an inherently funny word. So is Poughkeepsie. And Poconos. Those East Coasters know from funny.
But the thought that the repository for the wild and engaging ideas of a writer like Ellison are neatly packaged, shrink wrapped if you please, and ready to be lifted off the shelf and plopped into form is one that tickles my senses.
In the opening credits of “The Ray Bradbury Theatre” television shows (dating back to the 1980’s, The Good Man and I have been watching them recently), Bradbury says that he’s often asked “where do you get your ideas?”
His answer refers to his writing space which is filled floor to ceiling with books and mementos and a whole plethora of, well, junk. He says all he has to do is look out and whatever his eyes fall upon, that’s what he writes about.
In an essay on the topic, Neil Gaiman says,
“…these days I tell people the truth:
‘I make them up,’ I tell them. ‘Out of my head.’
People don’t like this answer. I don’t know why not. They look unhappy, as if I’m trying to slip a fast one past them. As if there’s a huge secret, and, for reasons of my own, I’m not telling them how it’s done.”
Truth be told, there is no huge secret. There is no mystery. Ideas simply happen.
When the hose is squeezed too hard, hoping for water, no water can come out.
When you step back and let go, then ideas flow faster.
Then again, every once in a while, you get a big calcified chunk of gunk that blocks the tubes. An esoteric gall stone, if you will.
So where DO you get your ideas?
Hell if I know.
Some days that shop in Schenectady is out of inventory and I have to wait for my back order to arrive.
Photo by username Clix and used royalty free from stock.xchng.