I edit and teach writing, but I also write. I imagine most of us who work in creative fields as the saying goes not only teach, but also do. Just like I have been on both ends of that red pen, I’ve also stared at my laptop wondering how to move the ideas from my head to fingers to keys to page.
Where do ideas come from? How do we find those ideas, free them, and them organize them into a coherent, interesting, correctly written story?
Here are some practical exercises to tackle this first and one of the most common writing problems.
Where do your ideas come from?
- You: Your life, your experiences, your family, your hopes, dreams, failures, and successes can all be used and transformed into stories. But open your mind with this prompt. You don’t have to write a memoir or tell your life story to write about you. Pick a detail that stimulates ideas. Maybe a house you lived in as a child or the memory of a faded red canoe lying on a dock will evoke feelings for you. Write about something that moves you, and you will likely find the ideas flow more easily.
- Things that fascinate you want to understand: Curious about global warming? What it really means to eat organic? Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, poetry, etc., focus on something you want to learn more about and your creativity may kick in. How to fuse a topic and a story? Don’t overwhelm yourself with detail. Start with a manageable goal. Write one paragraph from the point of view of someone trying to get a good friend to start composting. One paragraph might lead to two, and so on.
- Things you love: Or, things you hate/dislike/fear. Emotion is the catalyst for action, so it makes sense that emotion will also motivate stories and ideas. Are you passionate about vintage fashion? Pencil drawing? Make notes about anything that catches your eye at the mall–especially things you would never buy/always buy, etc. Anything that attracts you–or repels you–has the seed of a story in it. This can apply to anything you react to emotionally: people, ideas, places.
- History: You don’t have to write historical fiction to love history. Look into the past and find the amazing stories there. Friends who helped others, started businesses, succeeded against odds. There are stories everywhere! Of course, you need to be mindful of plagiarism. See my post on that if you need guidance.
- Animals/Nature: Our natural world is filled with stories that are fascinating! Have you heard about arctic sponges so large a human could hide inside it? Do you know how sushi vendors grade fish? Take any element of something in our natural world and play with it. Maybe you’ll be motivated to write a fantasy piece that takes place in a frigid climate, or about a sushi fishmonger who bucks 200 years of family tradition to go into another career…Look around and you may find inspiration.
What about if you’ve got a start but you’re stuck? Don’t how to fix a scene? Wrote your characters into a corner?
I always ask myself these questions to get the creative juices flowing when they seem to be drying out…
- What is the OBVIOUS next thing to happen to the character?
- What the OPPOSITE of the obvious thing?
Then I work from those two answers. Maybe I want the obvious thing to happen and I just needed to see it in front of me to start finding the right words. Maybe I want to give the reader something unexpected and by looking at the opposite, I can figure out what that next action/word should be.
I think most authors will agree that the most important thing you can do when you’re writing is to WRITE. Lots of words. Keep going. Don’t give up. Don’t edit yourself too soon. Quiet the criticism and distractions and WRITE!