"How do you get your ideas?"
It's inevitable. If you write, or paint, or compose, or do anything creative, people wonder where the grain of that idea comes from. Even creative people wonder about where the ideas of other creative people come from. There's something mystical and secretive about the creative process: no wonder the ancients believed in the Muses arriving and blessing the artists with ideas. It's as good an analogy as any.
Most writers have a process, a schedule, a pattern, for when they're writing. That initial burst of thought: that unraveling of images that somehow gives you a character, or a plot, or a theme, that's much less scientific.
Writers can provoke inspiration by exposing themselves to things that have the capacity to be inspiring. By reading, watching films, traveling, or trying something new, you expose yourself to new people, ideas, and sensations. Sometimes things just randomly align for no reason.
What's most important (in my young, limited experience) is not dismiss small inspirations. Just because you don't have a fully formed idea doesn't mean you might not have something important. Keeping a little notebook on you at all times is essential. Write down that unusual name you heard, or that fragment of a line that occurred to you while in line at the grocery store. When you flip back through your notebook, you might realize that some of these little things might go together. You might have your big inspiration after all.
I wrote a short story almost two months ago. I wasn't entirely happy with where it ended up, so I put it aside. Tonight while sitting in a linguistics class watching a video of Noam Chompsky talking about Universal Language, I suddenly knew. I knew how I could fix that story.
The mind is an amazing thing. Sometimes it might be working on a problem in the background, in the subconscious. We just have to live our lives and work on other things. The inspiration will come. And if it doesn't.... well, we do something else until it does.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who has had a weird breakthrough in the middle of something totally unrelated.