Where do writers get their ideas?

Robert Parker: “As long as I sit down to write, the ideas will come. What they will be, I don’t know.”

IDEAS FOR BOOKS have to come from somewhere.

But I have no idea where the ideas reside.

Wish I did.

I’d spend more time there.

How about you?

Where did you find the idea for your last novel?

How did it all begin?

I’m only certain about one thing.

We all find our ideas differently.

And most times they sneak up on us.

As Robert Parker once said, “I have reached the point where I know that as long as I sit down to write, the ideas will come. What they will be, I don’t know.”

He later said, “I really don’t what I am going to do in terms of what a book is going to be about until actually start writing it.”

Neil Gaiman recently wrote about people asking him where his ideas came from, and he would tell them: “’I make them up. Out of my head.’

People don’t like this answer, he said. 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. 

And of course I’m not. Firstly, I don’t know myself where the ideas really come from, what makes them come, or whether one day they’ll stop. Secondly, I doubt anyone who asks really wants a three hour lecture on the creative process. And thirdly, the ideas aren’t that important.

The Ideas aren’t the hard bit. They’re a small component of the whole. Creating believable people who do more or less what you tell them to is much harder. And hardest by far is the process of simply sitting down and putting one word after another to construct whatever it is you’re trying to build: making it interesting, making it new.

Most of my ideas come by accident.

I wasn’t looking for them.

For example, I was watching a late-night documentary a couple of years ago, and it dealt with mind control experiments taking place in secret locations during the 1930s.

The United States was guilty.

So was Russia.

And Germany.


And Korea.

It was a governmental operation that no one talked about.


Top Secret.

No one admitted the program even existed.

But it changed some men.

And it ruined others forever.

Doctors, in the dead of night when no one could her the screams, used electric shocks, probing the brain with electrodes, and such hallucinatory drugs as LSD to alter the way a man thought.

Some died.

Some went mad.

God only knows what happened to the survivors.

A few, I’m sure, wound up in unmarked graves on foreign shores a long way from home.

They may not have even remembered where home was or even what it was.

By morning, I had decided to write a series based on a character whose mind is erased by the government after each mission.

He has no memory.

He has no fear.

He doesn’t know what fear is.

And most of all, he will never be able to release secrets about where he was, what he did, and who died in the process.

His mind goes dark.

I liked the idea, and it led to Secrets of the Dead and Conspiracy of Lies, Night Side of Dark, Place of Skulls.


I had not intended to write the Ambrose Lincoln series of novels, but when the idea strolled by, I picked it up, kept it tucked away for a while, and it wasn’t long before the idea refused to leave.

Ross MacDonald, the great mystery novel writer, once said, “We writers, as we work our way deeper into our craft, learn to drop more and more personal clues. Like burglars who secretly wish to be caught, we leave our fingerprints on broken locks, our voiceprints in bugged rooms, our footprints in wet concrete.”

Our stories do become extensions of our lives.

I see that, more and more, every time I write a book.

That’s both good and bad.

I bare my soul and, sooner or later, whether you want to or not, you learn everything there is to know about me.

I fear you’ll be disappointed.

Please click HERE to find Secrets of the Dead on Amazon.

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