Chuck Wendig – Where writers get their ideas

Hey all!

I’ve been digesting all the interesting things folks have discussed with me on the last few posts. I feel like I’m learning a lot!Thanks to all those who left comments and helped push my thoughts in new directions.

Anyway, its funny how the universe can have the appearance of synchronicity at times (in itself an interesting comment on this whole discussion). Just a few days ago this writer posted the topic of “where ideas come from” on his blog as well. I know some folks may already be bored with this issue or already have their minds made up, but I always find it interesting to learn from what other people have to say.

And I especially think we potters can learn from the process of other creative artists. Being creative has the same obstacles and fruitful pathways no matter what the medium. And so I’ve found that I can learn a whole new side of things by paying attention to what artists in other media have to say. Back when I had cable I used to watch “The Actor’s Studio” because of the fascinating insight it gave me into the creative process of actors. In fact, I find I’m learning from people in all walks of life all the time. And the more I learn the less I seem to know, the less sure I am that I’ve got all the right answers, the more complex the question itself seems, and the more shades of grey there are. So I try to keep an open mind and look for clues wherever I can. Kind of like how I decide what my art will express (and isn’t that an interesting parallel?).

So here is this post I found that deals with parts of the issues I’ve been hashing through lately. But  be warned, Chuck uses some profanity and irreverence in his blog posts, and I don’t want to offend anyone by sharing his link. So if you think you might be squeamish please don’t go to his post. But I can share some basic snippets of the entry that I thought were interesting. The punchline of his discussion, the serious part, ends somewhere among these thoughts:

“We see things in the world — in our friends, in our loved ones, in the forests and oceans, in magazines and books, in ourselves — and our brains set to work on these things behind the scenes like a dog whittling away a cow femur with his ever-gnawing teeth. The whole damn universe is our frequency and our brain is the antenna.”

I also thought two of his commenters had good serious answers:

“Ideas are a dime a dozen. Everybody has them, all the time. The real trick is to listen to them, and then follow them, and put the work in.” (my emphasis. I just like this because it dovetails with what I’ve been saying about the important thing being what you do with an idea, and not necessarily where it comes from.)

“People put way too much emphasis on ideas, mistaking them for these unique and precious things when any number of people who have been exposed to the same experiences and conditions can have an almost identical one…. Ideas are huge wide junkyards of stuff accumulated through years of things you may not even consciously remember. The difference between a “good” idea and a horrible one isn’t the idea itself, but the execution of it into a final product.” (ditto on this as well)

So here’s Wendig’s post for those that feel inclined. Just remember that this is a guy who makes a living expressing himself with words, and he loves playing with them, challenging people with them, and if his irreverence capsizes a few boats it was never personal.

All in all I think I have around thirty of his posts bookmarked because they are so insightful about the creative process. It is often easy to see how the issues that potters are dealing with are fundamentally the same as the ones writers are struggling with (And doesn’t that seem to be yet one more clue that individual artists are not these isolated islands that have to come up with everything all on their own, reinvent the wheel with any and everything they do?).

We share so much with others that we are just not even aware of. And instead of celebrating this we sometimes shove others (who really are our brothers and sisters in this adventure) to the bottom of the pile in our struggle to get to the top, to proclaim ourselves to the world, and to enforce our ownership of everything we have laid our hands on. I know this is true of myself sometimes when I’m not paying attention. Sometimes I can let negative emotions sway me, and a momentary jealousy or a moment of exaggerated pride causes me to deflect from the generosity and graciousness I’d rather be sharing with the world. So I’m guilty of lapses too, but I guess this is where being an artist helps me. It helps me recognize that what I am bringing to the world is not the way the world already is, but what I think the world should be. These are my dreams of what the world is supposed to be like. But the world doesn’t change just on its own. My dreams and inspiration are just echoes in my mind unless I put in the hard work of doing something with them. Its what I’m doing with these ideas that counts.

About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
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9 Responses to Chuck Wendig – Where writers get their ideas

  1. Scott Cooper says:


    Good link. It’s about time we got “some profanity and irreverence” around here.

  2. Scott Cooper says:

    Like many of Wendig’s posts, there’s a really nice ripoff version of this waiting to be had: “Where Potters Get Their Ideas”. I’m too lazy, and perhaps still too enamored with the ghost of originality, to actually do this, but here’s a couple answers off the top of my head:

    1. Decorative riffs Michael Simon stopped using in the mid-90’s
    2. The cover of Ceramics Monthly
    3. A coffee pot randomly sitting in another potter’s bowl
    4. Crate & Barrel
    5. A weird, humble Frankenstein of every teacher you ever had

    Surely I’m missing some good ones…

    • That’s hilarious! I don’t have the genius of Wendig to do it myself, and if you hadn’t just confessed being too lazy I would have proposed TW@SE as the venue for an unsanctioned ripoff version. But here’s two I will contribute:

      6. Dosing your ceramics instructor with mushrooms a few hours before critique and then writing down everything the oracle has to say.

      7. Waiting for the instructor to sober up and then doing the opposite of everything he has to say.

      • Scott Cooper says:

        Ha… Good ones! I’m guessing your clever readers can get this list over 50 by lunchtime.

        You’re right: those jerks over at tw@se are slackers. No chance of them picking up the gauntlet.

        On further thought, I should have said:
        2. Forgotten covers of Ceramics Monthly

        That dovetails better with your post about accidental theft.

  3. Judy Shreve says:

    Another great post Carter. I agree that we all should share this creative journey. I have never regretted sharing recipes or helping anyone recreate my forms – I find that each of us is unique and even if something first appears similar, if I look closely I find the mark of the maker. Some folks just take themselves a little too seriously. Everything has been done before – what makes it original is your interpretation! Ideas are everywhere and don’t belong to one person!

    • Thanks Judy! And agreed with everything else you say here. We are so fortunate to have folks like you out there to lead by example and to generously share of themselves. The rest of us are indebted to you and these other travelers for pointing us in directions we may never have figured out on our own. We artists are a community of makers, sharing the marketplace of ideas, exchanging goods and trading wisdom. And I’m glad I’ve bumped into you on this adventure. Thanks for sharing so much of yourself and for sharing this part of the journey with me!

  4. Franklin Mint says:

    Writers get their ideas where evryone else does, they steal them! :

    • That’s certainly the perspective that makes sense to me. And I think Wendig mostly agrees, but puts the emphasis not so much on where they come from as what you need to do to get them pointing in the right direction. At heart he is a blue collar craftsman who endorses a lot of hard work as necessary to any real payoff. Not a bad perspective in my book.

      My last few posts (maybe you haven’t read those) also discuss this topic from all sorts of angles. In fact, there have been a few links to that Austin Kleon post, and the one containing the 25 quotations on why artists should steal. In my mind the topic doesn’t just stand alone but connects to how we think about the learning process, what things we feel we have permission to do, our ideas about who we are and how fidelity to that notion either is or is not important, the need to be uninfluenced by outside sources as the flip side to the need to create only original work, and how this is possibly connected to the establishment (academic, gallery, museum) push for novelty and its disregard for humble old hat things like function and beauty.

      I think that in significant ways all these topics are related, so I’ve been chiseling away at them first from one side and then from another. I know some folks have followed me through all those convoluted gymnastics, but I am guessing I still have plenty of work to do to til most folks can see the larger picture of what I’m aiming at. And of course the picture is not always clear from where I happen to be chipping away on any given day. Wish me luck!

      Thanks for reading! I would welcome your thoughts as part of this discussion.

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