How to be creative? Pay attention to the weird moments.
Brilliant ideas can come from basically anywhere. Whether it's Kurt Cobain not realizing "Teen Spirit" was a female deodorant that his girlfriend used or George Lucas looking at his dog, Indiana, sitting next to him in the car and thinking "Chewbacca," many of the things that are now pop culture institutions have come from seemingly innocuous places. Sometimes, as in the list below, they also come from super bizarre places.
Perhaps you've read countless pieces on how to unleash your creativity, but maybe the best way to do so is to just pay attention to the weird things around you. You never know when a volleyball or an infestation of baby spiders in your apartment is going to lead to the best idea you've ever had ...
1. James Cameron had the idea for "The Terminator" while homeless, in a nightmarish fever dream.
According to his biographer, Rebecca Keegan, the Terminator came into Cameron's nightmare as a "chrome torso emerging, phoenix-like, from an explosion and dragging itself across the floor with kitchen knives." This was scary enough to wake the director up and he began writing ideas down on the hotel stationary. Apparently, this scary figure with the kitchen knives also already had the now iconic glowing red eyes.
Cameron recalled the incident to Starlog Magazine, "I was sick and dead broke in Rome, Italy, with a fever of 102, doing the final cut of Piranha II. That's when I thought of Terminator. I guess it was a fever dream!" While writing the script, Cameron had to live out of his car and ended up selling the script for one dollar in order to retain the ability to direct the movie himself.
2. Stephen King worked as a high school janitor and was inspired by tampon dispensers in the girl's bathroom to write, "Carrie."
While working as a janitor in a high school, Stephen King had to clean the girl's bathroom. As he'd never been in a girl's bathroom before, he was surprised that there were tampon dispensers on the walls. This, coupled with recently reading an article in LIFE magazine about how if people were able to have telekinetic power, teenage girls would have the strongest abilities, led to the creation of the beginning of "Carrie." Then he threw this away.
I couldn't see wasting two weeks, maybe even a month, creating a novella I didn't like and wouldn't be able to sell. So I threw it away.
The next night, when I came home from school, Tabby [his wife] had the pages. She'd spied them while emptying my wastebasket, had shaken the cigarette ashes of the crumpled balls of paper, smoothed them out, and sat down to read them. She wanted me to go on with it, she said. She wanted to know the rest of the story. I told her I didn't know jack-sh*t about high school girls. She said she'd help me with that part.
I never got to like Carrie White and I never trusted Sue Snell's motives in sending her boyfriend to the prom with her, but I did have something there. Like a whole career. Tabby somehow knew it, and by the time I had piled up 50 single-spaced pages, I knew it, too.
The writer would end up selling the paperback rights for $400,000.
3. "Predator" was originally written to be an insane fifth installment of the Rocky Balboa franchise as a sort of joke.
After "Rocky IV" was released in 1985, it apparently became a popular joke that if a fifth movie were to be made, Rocky would have to fight an alien because all earthly opponents had been defeated. Screenwriters Jim and John Thomas essentially set out to make that joke into a real movie.
The duo churned out a screenplay called "Hunter," which originally featured an alien coming to the Central American jungle to challenge and destroy a worthy opponent. This opponent ended up being Arnold Schwarzenegger.
4. E.B. White found spider eggs, carried them around New York City with him and then let all the spider babies hatch in his city apartment. This inspired "Charlotte's Web."
The author of the children's classic had both a farm in rural Maine and an apartment in New York city. At the farm, a pig of his became sick, causing White to spend many hours caring for the dying animal, which led to an attachment. The pig ended up dying; he wrote about in an essay called "Death of a Pig," and the replacement pig had a spider that would hang around it. When the spider laid eggs and died, White became fascinated with saving the babies.
And he cuts the spider - the egg sac down, takes it with him, puts it on his bureau in his apartment in New York and forgets about it, until one day he's combing his hair, and he sees this movement on the desk. And the next thing you know, spiders are coming out of these little holes in a box that he had put the web case in, and - the egg case. And they're beginning to climb out and spill across the bureau. And because he's E.B. White, unlike me, he thinks this is very cool.
White ended up researching the lives of spiders intensely and decided to join the ideas of a pig worth saving and a pig with a spider friend together for "Charlotte's Web."
5. Douglas Adams came up with "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" while drunkenly in a field with a travel book.
"What's so unpleasant about being drunk?" - Arthur in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."
Douglas Adams recalled the moment of inspiration where he was a hitchhiker in Austria having a night of failure to catch a ride:
The idea for the title first cropped up while I was lying drunk in a field in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1971. Not particularly drunk, just the sort of drunk you get when you have a couple of stiff Gassers after not having eaten for two days straight, on account of being a penniless hitchhiker. We are talking of a mild inability to stand up.
I was traveling with a copy of the "Hitch-hiker's Guide to Europe" by Ken Walsh, a very battered copy that I had borrowed from someone. In fact, since this was 1971 and I still have the book, it must count as stolen by now...
As it is I went to lie in a field, along with my "Hitch Hikers Guide to Europe," and when the stars came out it occurred to me that if only someone would write a "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" as well, then I for one would be off like a shot. Having had this thought I promptly fell asleep and forgot about it for six years.
The author eventually found a ride and then went off to study English Literature at Cambridge.
6. The screenwriter of "Cast Away" stranded himself on an island to do research and had a volleyball wash up on shore.
William Broyles Jr. spent a week stranded on a beach off the Sea of Cortes, spearing stingray and trying to start fires. While he was there, he came across a Wilson-made vollyeball that he started calling "Wilson," just like the movie.
Describing the Tom Hanks character, Chuck Noland, in the film, Broyles said, "Here's a man whose emotional connections have not been as deep or as simple and honest as they could have been and he is learning to communicate and to form this deep attachment not to another human being but to a volleyball. In a way, to his own projection."
7. Matt Groening wrote "The Simpsons" as a placeholder in minutes to avoid losing the rights to a different idea.
The now legendary cartoonist had been given the opportunity to pitch a series of animated shorts to producer James L. Brooks and he originally intended to turn in his "Life in Hell" comic strip. While waiting in the lobby for the meeting, Groening realized he'd lose the rights to his original idea and freaking out about this prospect, he decided to create something new. Pressed for time, he named the characters after his own family -- his father Homer, his mother Margaret, his sister Lisa and the slight variation of his own name into Bart.
It's estimated this rushed idea has ended up making over $12 billion and counting.
Now go have a fever dream and become a writer's block terminator.