WARNING. Once you have an idea you may not be able to get rid of it. You can't simply take an unwanted idea into the forest, tie it to a tree and go home. One night you'll hear piteous whining outside your bedroom window and find it gazing in reproachfully, fogging the glass with heaving sobs. Ideas are sensitive. Please remember this the next time a colleague invites you to "kick a few ideas around."
Decide what type of idea you'd like to have. Bear in mind that a big idea takes up space and is demanding. Are you prepared to feed an all-consuming obsession? Perhaps you'd be happier with a whim or an inkling. Try starting with an idle speculation, which doesn't need much exercise. Maybe something like: "What if wasps could play tennis?"
Having an idea is like catching a fish, except you don't have to stand around in a river freezing your nuts off and listening to a bunch of liars. But the principle is the same: you need bait. Ideal for this purpose are a few pointless notions you want to get rid of anyway. Old, worn-out clichés are perfect, or nagging doubts, which squirm around a lot but have no value.
Put your thinking cap on. But check inside it first, for insects. You don't want to end up with a bee in your bonnet.
This is the moment to ask yourself an important question. Why do you want to have an idea? Be honest. There's no shame in admitting you need ideas. Maybe you've used up all your old ideas. Or maybe they were stolen. Is that what happened? Did someone steal your ideas? I find this a very plausible hypothesis. Let's explore it further by using the following example.
Imagine you're writer. Naturally, you don't have many friends, because writers are solitary types with complex personalities and, hey, it's difficult making friends with people who don't understand you. But you have one friend in particular, and you seem to like each other, and you share ideas with them. Maybe you invite this friend to some of your special places where you like to observe human nature, which is important for a writer. And yes, it may entail watching people when they're unaware you're watching them. Because that's the best way to observe authentic human behaviour, right? Which for some reason your friend claims to find unusual. Or inappropriate, or whatever. As a result, you see less of each other. In fact you wouldn't see each other at all if you didn't make an effort, sometimes spending a whole evening outside their house in order to encounter them when their phone seems to be malfunctioning again. And then you get it. Obviously, this so-called friend is stealing your ideas. Which totally explains why they've been avoiding you. How does that feel? Wow, it feels terrible. You feel bitterly disappointed and also totally angry. What do you do? You can't just hope this seething hatred will go away. You have to do something about it.
Confront your so-called friend. At which point, they may say, "Jesus, you have to stop this, dude! This delusion about me stealing your ideas! Maybe you should change your medication." And you reply, "I'm not taking any medication." And they say, "Well, there's your problem, right there!" And everyone at the book launch laughs and you get thrown out. This is how much the person values your friendship. To make a joke of it, and to humiliate you in front of a whole room full of their important writer friends. This cannot go unpunished. You are now truly enraged. Which is when, quite naturally, you reach the next step.
You have an idea! Yes, that's what it took! Paradoxically, it was only by allowing your emotions free rein that you created the conditions in which an idea could emerge: organically, majestically, and hilariously. This is such a good idea! Because what this is really about is not how to have an idea, but how to have someone else's idea. Yes, in the same way that the despicable person who trampled on your friendship stole your ideas, you will steal their ideas. But how?
Break into the person's house. Choose a time when you're pretty sure they won't be there. But it's best to take a weapon with you, just in case. You can't be totally certain they won't be there, or come home unexpectedly, or that someone else won't be there, maybe one of their worthless, immoral important writer friends. So take a weapon. Also some chloroform, rope, duct tape and a sack. Just in case.
Once inside the house find their computer. Their passwords will be pathetically easy to discover. They always are. Access their work files. Be swift, but calm and purposeful. Don't waste time regretting that you had to use the weapon. These things happen. Luckily you have the other equipment. Okay, you're into their files. Bingo! There it is, a file called New Ideas. Ha, ha, people are so dumb. You read the file and find the latest idea. It's an idea for a short piece entitled How To Have An Idea. It's not bad. You can definitely use it. It's your idea now.
Congratulations, I've had an idea! This is my idea. Mine. All mine.
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My radio comedy 'Reception' is currently being broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 11.30am on Monday mornings; final episode on Monday 7th October. Each episode can be heard for seven days after broadcast on BBC iPlayer.