When I get asked questions about writing, I try to work out what the person is actually asking (which is not always the same as what they say.) Sometimes it's hard to do that at the time and I only realise afterwards what they really meant. Many of the questions boil down to this: how do I become a writer?
One question that always comes up (invariably, every single time) is: Where do you get your ideas from? And if it's in a school visit, I see the teachers lean forward expectantly, hoping that I will drop some words of wisdom to inspire those children who complain about never having any ideas of their own.
It's a such a short, innocuous question and I know they want a short, easy answer (like the "ideas are all around you" answer.)
But as I ponder this question later, after the visit, I wonder if many people think that "the idea" and "the story" are much the same thing. That once you have trapped the idea, like catching a butterfly, the story will follow without any trouble, like a child toddling along after her mother. It will just magically happen on its own.
And it's not like that. You could give a dozen people the same idea and they would come up with a dozen different stories, some good, some - not so good. The ideas is just the start. It's the working and reworking that makes the story
But that's sometimes hard to explain in a few minutes.
So here instead is what Neil Gaiman has to say about having ideas: how to be a successful writer.