Elizabeth: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

For a number of peopIdea_Faucetle, starting to write (or getting back into writing) on is on their list of things to do this year. When sitting down to write, one of the first stumbling blocks can be figuring out what to write about.

How do you come up with your ideas?” is one of the questions authors are frequently asked, and the answer varies from person to person.

When I was taking graduate writing classes at my local university, the majority of my classmates used their own personal experiences as story ideas, typically writing memoir-type pieces. Our instructors provided a lot of different exercises to help us generate new story ideas from having us write in the style of famous authors to writing group stories (e.g., writer A writes a line, then writer B writes the next, and so on).

Whether you need an idea for a new story, ideas about what should happen next within your story, or a creative solution to solve a particularly troublesome plot problem, here are some ways to get those ideas generating:

Do something else.

I know that sounds counter-intuitive. If you’re trying to come up with story ideas, shouldn’t you be sitting down in front of your computer (or with your notebook) and be actively thinking? Well, sometimes, but not always. When you’re off doing something that doesn’t need a lot of concentration, like ironing or going for a walk or, in my case, cleaning, your mind is free wander about and, possibly, make random connections that can lead to potential story ideas. The inspiration for my random writing sprint this past Friday came to me while I was in the midst sorting through the shoes in my closet. You never know what is going to spark an idea. Sometimes giving your brain a break and letting it wander aimlessly is just what you need.

Brainstorm

While I’m a big fan of aimless mind wandering, actively thinking can be effective too. Something like free-writing, where you just start writing whatever comes to mind and see where it takes you, can get you to a useful idea. That’s exactly how I wound up with today’s post. If you have the inkling of an idea or an idea that has stalled out, you can try brainstorming. This post from the Personal Excellence blog describes a number of useful brainstorming techniques and our own Michille talks more about brainstorming here. Our own Friday Random Improv posts can be a fun way to generate ideas as well. Having a set of random words and having to figure out what do to with them can result in some really interesting ideas, often outside our normal writing styles/genres.

Brainstorming and idea generation don’t have to be solitary exercises. I’ve gotten some really great story ideas when talking with other writers. Sometimes it takes someone else to ask “what if” kind of questions to get you thinking in a new direction. This can be particularly helpful when trying to come up with an idea to solve a particular problem within a story or to come up with “what’s next” kind of ideas for your characters.

“Everyone gets their inspiration their own way. Stephen King says you should write the first draft with the door closed and Rita Mae Brown says a chicken doesn’t crow until after it’s laid its egg, but it takes a village to write one of my books.” ~ Eight Lady Jeanne

Broaden Your Horizons

In her post on Monday, Nancy talked about how learning new things and making social connections fits into her writing goals for this year. Besides being enjoyable, both are ways to broaden horizons and experiences, which can provide new potential source material for stories. Watching the news, reading books, traveling, talking with your neighbors – all of these things can be fertile ground for story ideas.

As I’ve mentioned before on the blog, I always have a notebook with me to jot down ideas. Sometimes it’s just a snatch of conversation I overhear over breakfast, other times it’s an event that seems interesting or a headline that captures my attention. I also have a folder of news stories that I’ve saved over time for their “story potential.” When I’m looking for something to write and need an idea, both my notebook and news story folder are great resources.  You never know what tidbit of information will turn into a great story idea.

So, where do you get your ideas?

7 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

  1. I get my ideas from the world around me. The house in my current WIP has always fascinated me so in my story it goes. The door to the basement of Genny’s house is on the street where I work – I pass it when I walk at lunchtime and it is so well camouflaged that I’m sure most people don’t even know it is there. I need to find new ways to get ideas because my current WIP is stalled. There are some good ideas here. Thank you.

    • Michille – it almost seems like ideas are out there everywhere; as long as we’re receptive to finding them. Sorry to hear your current WIP is stalled. I hope some of the suggestions above prove helpful to you.

  2. Dreams.
    Thoughts that drift through my mind during that twilight time between waking and sleeping.
    Songs.
    Pictures.
    Articles in magazines, on the internet, or on the news.
    A phrase, a snatch of conversation.

    I’m the wrong person to ask. I’m generally fighting off attacking plot bunnies before I disappear under the heaving mound of their furry backs. Ideas are everywhere.

    If I’m stuck on a plot point, I ask questions. Why? What if? How? What would he/she do if…? And why? again. ‘Why’ is probably the most useful question to ask, at least for me.

    • Hi Carol. I’m right with you on the dreams and the time between waking and sleeping. That’s when I get some of my best ideas and, as a matter of fact, that’s where the idea for the contemporary romance I’m currently working on came from.

      Will add “asking why” questions to my toolbox for when I get stuck. That sounds like a very useful way to figure out how to move forward.

    • Everything Carol said. The world is full of ideas. I have a bookmark called ‘story stuff’ where I save anything that catches my attention online, a super-sized scrap book full of articles I’ve ripped out of magazines and newspapers, and a phone full of notes I’ve made while I’ve been out and about. Here’s a link to an article I bookmarked a couple of days ago – no idea what I’ll do with it (if anything) but it sparked a whole raft of weird and wonderful speculation:

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-35275955

      What If? is the most useful question for me as a story starter, but once I start writing, it’s always Why? I usually know what happens next, much harder to figure out why, why, why?

      • Jilly – I can see where that article would have sparked some weird and wonderful speculation (or nightmares). I second “why” as being an excellent follow up to “what if” when writing.

  3. I’m pretty full of ideas, too. The big trick is to get them to crash together in an interesting way, and then to keep them careening, bouncing off another idea, then another, then another until one finally has what one wanted. These are all good tricks to get them to bump into each other. This year, the big thing I want to experiment with is making room in my mind and schedule for them to make an impact, and to take notes immediately. In other words, I want to make time for boredom, so that my unconscious mind starts chucking ideas at each other to see what happens.

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