I’m in complete awe of musicians.

Honestly, for the music I most enjoy, I often sit and wonder where the artist came up with the idea to put certain notes and chords together, the loops and samples, percussion, all of it. It really baffles me. Whenever I try to write songs, the music always sounds the same, and it’s terrible. I hardly know where to start.

A lot of people say the same things to me about writing novels. How can you possibly sit there for hours and hours typing away for 100,000 words? they ask. Where do the ideas come from?

The honest answer is: everywhere. Really, most people probably have enough cool ideas for a book, but writers constantly note those ideas and wonder where they might fit into a story.

Right now I’m developing the concept for a new novel, which for me is the most difficult part of the process. Aspiring writers often ask me the same question I ask musicians: How do you get started? There must be some defining “a-ha” moment, right?

For me it doesn’t really work like that. On my current project, the first idea came from the most clichéd source possible: a dream. But the dream happened because lately I’ve been thinking and reading about a cool idea: that maybe our world is a computer simulation. You know, like sort of like The Matrix. That’s the first thing I thought of when I woke from the dream. Cool idea, but hasn’t it been done before?

My dream didn’t feel like The Matrix, though. It was closer to The Truman Show or The Thirteenth Floor. But it didn’t really feel like those, either. And to be honest, there aren’t that many stories out there…just variations on similar themes. The three films above toy with the idea of reality not being what it seems, but each one is very different.

Once you have an idea, you have to arm yourself with research to ensure you a) know what you’re talking about and b) don’t tread on familiar ground. You have to know what’s been done and navigate through it. During the course of that research you encounter new concepts and you begin to incorporate those into your story.

Two days ago I received a friend request from The Moscow Coup Attempt, a music project by Derek Whitacre. I’ve already written how listening to music as I write influences the composition, and I loved Derek’s music so much I bought his first album from iTunes. Turns out that he is interested in global human communication and the ways it breaks down, which is an important theme in my work. He’s also been influenced by numbers stations, and uses samples of shortwave broadcasts in his music. I must admit I’d never heard of numbers stations, so I did some research yesterday and it turns out the television show “Lost” has used the concept. And now, so am I.

Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Seed ideas are precious, certainly, but from my point of view, creating a literary work of broad scope involves the crystallization of many other ideas onto the first one. That influence–how anything from a passing conversation to a friend request on MySpace can shape the development of a novel–fascinates me.

I’m still not clear how musical ideas are formed, but story ideas truly come from everywhere. Other art. The Internet. Friends.