Ideas are our raw material. They are the start of everything, the spark of life, the very first atom. You get an idea, and then another, then another that might stick the first two together in a wonderful ball of a story.
As writers, we are little more than idea polishers. We take, them, steal them, collect them, grow them, all of us trying like hell to come up with one that doesn’t look like everyone else. And if you’re the least bit successful, or if you’ve got irritating friends that are amazed by you, you’ve probably been asked where you get them.
Well, where do you get them? Where does anyone get them? I’ve never been the kind of writer who believed much in muses who will sprinkle inspiration dust on us in our sleep. I’ve always been more of the opinion that to get ideas I must live my life and experience the world, and ideas will come to me. Read the paper, go to a museum, go tour a coal mine, that sort of thing. I think that living your life will give you more material than you could ever have time to write about, if you only listen to what’s going on around you.
Of course, you also need the right tools, and know how to use them. Here are the tools I use.
Dream Journals and Idea Journals
Yes, I know, how very twelve year old girl of me, shut up. Your subconcious is two things, honest and illogical. These are awesomely good things when writing fiction, and it behooves you to write this stuff down when it’s presented to you without any effort.
As for an idea journal, I suggested you get one of these on the first of the month. This is the thing that you have with you at all time, so that when you get one of those wonderful bolt from the blue moments you can get it down right then.
Personally, I have my dream journal, private journal and idea notebook as parts of my bullet journal. That makes my life easier, because I only have one book that has all of my story ideas, random observations, rolling to do lists, and random lists in one place. Basically, it’s my external hard drive.
I love mind maps. I am a very visual person, and so the ability to write out my thoughts, and where my thoughts might lead. I can start with one image, and just shoot of things that it makes me think of. If I’m working on an outline, for instance, I might have two or three things I know I want to have happen in this book. I write them down, and start thinking of what could happen due to these things, and how they might be connected to each other, and what plot bunnies might manifest. Characters that might be good here, snippets of dialog, whatever comes to my mind. I fill pages, without a single bit of judgement.
This is an often mentioned but unappreciated tactic. Grab a piece of paper, and just start writing. If you’re trying to think of an idea, just write. Write about the moon, or the street or the guy that just drove past on his bike with a milk crate attached to the back that had a dog in it. (No lie, he lives in my town).
If you doubt that this would work, just remember that this is just how I came up with Woven. I was free writing, and came up with the main character. Just saying.
I don’t know, might have mentioned a few times before, I love lists. Lists of fears, hates, loves, favorite foods, you name it I love them. And they can be such a great creative tool. They make you get past the knee jerk reaction, and streatch. So, if you’re really stuck for an idea, start listing. List bad ideas, people you miss, places you wish you were, things you want to do this weekend, whatever interests you at the time.
Writing Prompts and Contests
If all else fails, turn to the internet. Type writing prompts into Google, then hit ‘I’m Feeling Lucky.’ You will find something random and awesome.
I love writing prompts, because you can give the same prompt to five different writers and get six different stories back. (There’s always got to be that one guy who comes up with two ideas, you know.)
I also love anthologies and contests that give you a theme to work off. It helps me direct my creative energy. When I use that, though, I always throw away the first three story ideas I come up with, because I’m sure that’s what everyone else is writing about. It’s just the law of averages. And if an anthology asks for a story about cats, and they get three stories about chasing mice, and one about chasing birds, they’re probably going to print the bird one and the best of the three nice ones.
Once you have your ideas, keep them somewhere versatile until you’re ready to use them. Personally, if I haven’t used a story idea by the time I’ve finished my bullet journal, they get transitioned into my writing binder, that has a whole mess of lose leaf paper and can be updated weekly.