I've got this scene I want to write, and I know the basics -- the who, the impossible what, the why -- but I don't really "have it" yet. I couldn't feel it, and actually, I doubted it was possible to pull off. So instead of just sitting down and pounding it out, I was waiting for the scene to gel in my head. I was waiting for inspiration. For an idea.
It finally hit me on Sunday morning. And it hit me the way that ideas almost always do: I looked at the same situation from a different perspective. I was asking myself, "What would Mr. Quincy think?" (Mr. Quincy being a minor character who plays a minor role in this particular scene.) And then, boom, I got it all at once.
I happened to be in church at the moment, which was highly inconvenient, so I ended up scribbling down the sequence on the back of a collection envelope, shooing the usher away when he tried to collect the envelope, and then stuffing it in my pocket.
Once I start working on an idea, I'm always asking myself, "But is it different? Is it interesting?" I can tell if it's a winner if actual phrases begin to pop into my mind, like a domino train of images. Then I start to get excited, and it's off to the races.
But I don't know where ideas come from. They just float up from the murk of my cerebral swamp with some dependable regularity, waiting to be skimmed off surface of the grey matter. Not all of them are good -- the vast majority are dreck -- but that's OK, because I'm willing to wait.