good morning, cyberspace!
Recently, my brother–a fellow creative currently working on his own creative endeavors–came up to me and asked a very deep, very powerful question:
“How do you come up with ideas?”
My initial reaction was, of course, of the highest caliber in question-answering:
“UHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. . . . . . wut?”
After I got over my initial shock and confusion, I began to do what all writers do when faced with such a question as this: I started to spew out all the random information I’d carefully plucked from various blog posts and YouTube videos in the past. Helpful tidbits such as, “you kinda just . . . do it. . .?” and “I’m actually just a kangaroo in a human skin, please don’t interrogate me” flew past my lips, all while my brother’s question replayed like a broken record in my head.
How do you find ideas? It’s a very good question, and when you’re trying to write a story or create a world or design the leaning tower of Pisa, you need ideas before you can actually begin. But sometimes your muse simply refuses to come out of vacation long enough to pepper you with the Next Greatest Thing™, which means you–as the writer–are going to have to get your hands dirty.
And also possibly bloody because we’re going to be murdering your muse, but shh.
You’re going to have to go out into the big wide world
(or not) and find your next idea yourself, because like it or not, sometimes the greatest ideas don’t just flutter into our heads like a swarm of rabid butterflies. Sometimes we have to work for them.
So today, I’m bringing you a completely untested and unproven list of ways that YOU can go out and conquer your inner muse by finding the ideas that you’ve always wanted! You ready? Okay!
— SIX WAYS TO FIND THE STORY IDEA YOU’VE ALWAYS WANTED!! (hopefully) —
PART ONE: For When You’re Inspired To Write, But You Just . . . Don’t Know What To Write.
NUMBER ONE . . . Write Something
Anything. No, really. You can write literally anything for this step.
You took a walk and saw a caterpillar on the sidewalk? WRITE IT.
You ate a burrito for lunch and wished it had less sausage because you absolutely despise sausage with your entire existence? WRITE IT.
You looked outside your window because you’re actually a vampire and never go outside and saw a cloud that was shaped like a rubber duck? WRITE. IT.
Even the most unoriginal and uninspired 300 words could be the initial springboard for finding an idea you love. When I was first starting out as a serious writer, 99.9% of the ideas I had came from pantsing the first 1,000 words or so of something completely random and spontaneous. And you know what happened? The characters, the story world, even the tone of voice for whatever random little scene I was writing completely hooked me, and out of that scene came flooding an entire book.
Or, at least, the premise of a book, which is technically all you really need to begin. One idea you absolutely adore. That’s it. And sometimes all it takes to get those creative juices pumping is to sit down in your favorite chair and write 300 words of complete and utter nonsense.
Because that caterpillar you saw on your walk yesterday? Maybe it had just the faintest tint of blue to it. Maybe it was actually a caterpillar from Wonderland. And that neighbor that never comes out of his house–you know the one. The guy with the weird mushrooms growing out back who hosts those bizarre tea parties with the funky hats that you’re never invited to? Ah, yes. Mr. Caroll.–maybe there’s something just a little bit off about him. Maybe there’s some sort of hole in his persona, a sort of otherworldly dimension to him that you never really noticed before. . .
And that burrito with the sausage you absolutely hate? Maybe that wasn’t actually sausage at all. Maybe the reason you despised those globular pieces of meat so much was because it wasn’t actually made from pork, but from something a little more . . . familiar. Something almost human. . .
And that rubber duck cloud you saw in the sky? Perhaps that was carefully, artfully crafted by the hands of a Great Cloud Elder, who was trying anything and everything in his power to console his sad, lonely cloud son after the child’s mother–an absolutely gorgeous cumulonimbus–passed away from a nasty jet accident.
Each and every one of the seemingly random things you see or thoughts you think have the potential to become something magical, if you’ll only give them a fighting chance.
But–as always–I know exactly what you’re thinking. This is a blog post, after all. I totally thought up the story ideas about Mr. Carroll and the Great Cloud Elder before I wrote out the bit about the caterpillar and the rubber duck cloud, right?
WRONG. Each example I gave you was completely, 100% inspired by the sentences I wrote at the beginning. There was no previous brainstorming. No sneaky linking or tweaking to make the story ideas fit better. It was just pure, undiluted idea-making.
which is totally a thing.
So if you find yourself struggling with finding an idea–if your creative well seems most horribly dry–then I would highly suggest taking something–literally anything–and writing about it. Pick the second most abstract thing that pops into your head and time yourself for 10 minutes. Word vomit onto the page until the timer stops, and then see if you don’t have anything to work with.
No, really. Go do that right now. I’ll wait.
. . .
Still stuck? Then let’s continue.
NUMBER TWO . . . Writing Prompts
This kind of goes along with number one, but it’s just a smidgen more generic.
See, when you take the first thing that pops into your head, you’re still digging deep down into your creative cranium to find something to write about. But what if you literally don’t have ANYTHING rattling around inside your head? What if your creative well is so dry that poor Jimmy fell down and died of thirst?
WELL. That’s where writing prompts come in, my friend.
Now, personally, I don’t get very excited about writing prompts. (unless I, or someone else I know personally came up with them, because then they’re generally less cliche-y and more creative, but I digress.) I don’t necessarily like feeling as though someone else is dictating what I write, especially not some random generator, which I’m pretty sure creates 98.3% of all writing prompts out there in the world. However, even I cannot deny the benefits of writing prompts, especially since they have both A) given me LOADS of practice throughout my years as a writer, and B) helped me cultivate some ideas that I otherwise would never have had.
I don’t necessarily always write something based on the prompts that I find, but occasionally I like to just sit and scroll through a giant page of them on Pinterest to give me some inspiration, create plot bunnies, or even just to help get me in the mood to write.
Because apparently that’s a thing you have to do if you want to be a writer??? Who knew, am I right? *nervous laughter*
But anyway. Back to what I’m trying to say. If you’re struggling to come up with a random idea to write for Tip No. 1, writing prompts are your friend. And you’re my friend. Which is why I deem it appropriate for me to yell at you to sit down and write some randomness.
Seriously. I cannot stress enough how much good can come from writing something completely random. Not only does it stretch your creative muscles, but it also helps you in the long run by making you a better writer. And, as I mentioned before, giving yourself the creative liberty to write absolutely nothing at all usually produces an idea that can later become–with just a little bit of prodding–something.
But don’t worry, my writer’s-blocked bean, you. I hear you, too. You’re over there himming and hawing because you just can’t write. You’ve tried everything. You’ve tried writing the randomness. You’ve tried writing non-randomness. You’ve tried writing blog posts and creative prompts and yet you still can’t get inspired for anything! Ideas are a myth in your life. A mystical legend you hear other writers talk about, yet have never experienced.
Or, more accurately, you just haven’t experienced them for a while, and therefore you plum forgot.
But never you mind that, for there are ways to find ideas that–believe it or not–don’t include writing.
So let’s talk about them.
PART TWO: For Those Who Want To Cure Their Blocked Mind Craniums
If you happen to be so stuck that you can’t even think about writing right now, these next tips might just be the ones to help you out of your blockage. Tips such as. . .
NUMBER THREE . . . Read!
And not just books, mind you. Yes, books are a must for any growing writer’s brain–and even if you’ve been writing for 10 years, you’re definitely still growing, laddie–but they are not the only forms of literature that are good for reading. Blogs, for example, have inspired me so insanely much in the past. Not only does reading about someone else conquering their goals get me inspired to conquer mine, but I’ve also been hit with whole hordes of plot bunnies while reading blog posts before.
The initial idea for what later became my current WIP–SK–first hit me like a lightning bolt when I was reading someone else’s blog post about their own writing.
And no. It is not plagiarism. My idea was extremely far-flung from what they were writing about, but something that blogger said–seemingly in passing–really struck a chord with me. And then it was only a matter of time before that idea started germinating and BOOM! Plot bunny goldmine. I had found a new idea.
So read, but don’t just limit yourself to books. Read blogs. Read Instagram posts. Read the back of a cereal box. You’ll never know when inspiration will strike, and usually it’s in the most unassuming of places.
NUMBER FOUR . . . Pay Attention To The People Around You
I know. Believe me, I know. You’re probably screaming at me right now because this step implies that you must–horror of all horrors–go outside.
But trust me, my dear marshmallow frond. It’s not as bad as it seems. People are really very interesting creatures, and studying them is one of the most interesting hobbies to have.
Humans are just . . . odd. They say and do the absolute most bizarre things and often make me wonder what on earth this world is coming to. But they are also fuel for ideas. Those weird things they say and do can be the starting point for crafting characters that are actually believable. And that’s basically all we’re trying to accomplish, anyway, isn’t it? Creating believable characters? You might find an idea for a plot that’s the absolute best thing since Swiss cheese (and believe me. I LOVE Swiss cheese), but if your characters are flat, you’re going to run into some very sticky situations with your manuscript.
And, in some situations, sometimes all it takes to find a wonderful idea is to first find the character. My friend, Phoebe, recently told me that the majority of her story ideas first begin with the main character. She typically first gets hit with a little bit about who the character is and what makes them special, and then she sets out to find the story surrounding said interesting character. And as someone who knows what it’s like to begin with both the character first, or the basic premise first, I know that both ways of finding an idea work.
But what does this have to do with people watching, you might ask? Easy. The random people you see out and about in the real world can sometimes make for very interesting characters.
And no, I’m not talking about the people who constantly come up to you all like–“Hey hey hey!!! Can you write MEEEEE into your story?????” << these people clearly do not understand story creation and therefore do not make good characters.
No no, I’m talking about the neighbors who never–repeat: NEVER–come out of their house or go into their yard. Are they vampires? Werewolves? Ghosts?
I’m talking about the man who chooses to walk his dog in the dead of night, with nothing but the stars and the moon to illuminate his path so that we nearly run him over when pulling into our driveway.
I’m talking about the little cousin with the wild imagination, who can think up the wildest stories on the spot with little to no effort. Are they actually stories, or has he found a hidden world in his closet where dinosaurs and science fiction collide?
These are the people to pay attention to. These are the people to notice, because sometimes all it takes is one little person–who some people might find absolutely unremarkable–to spark the most remarkable ideas.
So the next time you’re out and about–whether it’s intentionally or not–keep a notebook on hand. Watch the people. Eavesdrop in on conversations in the middle of restaurants. Make a note to notice (discreetly, of course) the people you would normally just glance over. Because one of them–or, more likely, a part of them–might just be your next character.
NUMBER FIVE . . . Brainstorm With Other Creatives
Literally nothing has given me more inspiration and plot bunnies than brainstorming ideas with other creatives. There’s something almost magical about talking to other creative people that just gives me this great excitement for creation as a whole. It’s like creative people can’t help but sprinkle the air around them with this magical pixie dust of creativeness*, and it’s up to us to cling to that dust and suck it into our lungs and breathe it out into our own creative endeavors.
If you’re a writer, you probably already have some other creative peoples/writers around you that you hang out with or talk to. (and if you don’t, I would highly suggest going out and finding like-minded creatives, but that is another post for another day.) Whether or not they’re a writer themselves, typically other creative people absolutely love to talk about their own creative pursuits, and–in return–generally love to brainstorm your projects with you, as well.
Take my family, for example. Literally none of them are writers like me, but they have some of the most genuine and unique ideas when they brainstorm with me because they A) understand me and my style extraordinarily well, and already kind of know what I’m looking for in a brainstorm, and B) are impossibly creative themselves, which means the ideas they give are–more often than not–amazing.
So if you’re struggling to find that initial spark to a forest-fire of inspiration and ideas, I highly recommend going to your friends and family to brainstorm some ideas out!
And who knows? Maybe you can help them brainstorm something out in return! Phoebe and I just recently did a massive brainstorm session in preparation for Camp NaNoWriMo (which, at the time, neither of us seemed wholly prepared for.
[pretty sure we’re still not prepared but HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA–SHHHHhhhhh. . .]), and it was quite possibly one of the most fun brainstorming sessions of ever. We were both talking about our own stories, and also listening to each other talk about their stories, and also asking questions about each other’s stories, and while we sometimes got off-topic (*cough* cat nuns *cough*), I feel like we both came out of that brainstorming session super excited and just a teeny bit more prepared for Camp than we had been previously.
NUMBER SIX . . . Force Yourself To Find Ideas
Okay, so I know this sounds painful, but just here me out, okay? There’s this quote by Orson Scott Card that I’ve seen a million and one times that says:
“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.”
And I just. . .??? This quote really angers me, okay? Because sometimes I go through my day and don’t find any good ideas. So does this make me a bad writer? Does this make me one of the millions who walk around seeing nothing?
AM I A WORTHLESS BLOB OF MINCED MEAT???
AHA. NO. Because by golly, if this guy says that a good writer will find five or six good story ideas every single day??? I’M GONNA FIND ME SOME GOOD STORY IDEAS, PEASANTS. Ain’t nobody gonna tell me that I’m not a good writer. Even if it kills me, I shall wake up and poke around my dreary little world until I find something that vaguely interests me. I may not find five or six good ideas, but I bet you I can find one. Because–linking back up to Number Four–this universe is jam-packed with oddities. Even the most boring, mundane kind of day has the potential to hold something spectacular, if only we have the courage and the persistence to find it.
Because sometimes that is really all we need. Sometimes we seem to have this insane magical ability where an idea will just pop straight into our noggin like some sort of present, all wrapped and neatly tied in ribbons and bows. But other times–in those moments when our muses are most obnoxiously silent when we need them most–we have to go out and actually search for ideas. We have to dig around and get our hands dirty and poke and prod at the thin strings of our imaginations until finally–FINALLY–something will start to take shape. An idea will start to grow in our minds. It might be small at first, nothing more than an inkling of an idea. But with a little bit of nurturing, that tiny sprout of an idea has the potential to become your next book.
So if you’re truly struggling–if you’ve tried literally everything and still an idea has failed to pop like magic into your head–perhaps it’s time to start taking matters into your own hands. Tie your muse up with copious amounts of super glue, lock your inner critic into a closet and throw away the key, and then start searching for your next idea yourself.
Because you’re a writer, and while you may not find five or six ideas every single day, I truly do believe that you can find one. And for right now, one good, strong idea is all you really need.
TALK TO ME, PEASANTS!
And that, my friends, is pretty much all I’ve got for you all today! What are YOUR top tips and tricks for finding ideas? Are there any things I failed to mention that help you find new and exciting story ideas? Are you currently in a writing slump, or are you in that glorious stage where plot bunnies are bursting in your head like a spreading flu virus? Are you in favor of pre-made writing prompts, or do you prefer coming up with your own? and most importantly, for all my friends currently doing Camp NaNoWriMo. . .
HOW IS YOUR CAMP GOING???
I’m currently failing most abhorrently, but shhh. That hardly matters, right? *insert nervous laughter here*
As always, let’s talk about ALL OF THE THINGS! down in the comments below, and until next time. . .
Featured Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash
12 thoughts on “Six Ways To Find The Story Idea You’ve Always Wanted (hopefully)”
I LOVE THESE AND TOTALLY AGREE
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MEEP! Thank you, Gracie!!!! <333
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OH MY WORD. THIS POST!!! This is all GOLDEN advice. I completely agree with all of it. In fact, I do a lot of it! Inspiration really can found be anywhere, you just have to keep your eyes open. I totally get story ideas from the most RANDOM places, and usually my idea doesn’t have anything to do with the source I got it from. Like you did from someone’s blog post, YES. So glad I’m not the only one who does this. XD
Also I LOVE YOUR BRAIN. All the random ideas your threw at us, especially in the first point, had me grinning so big. I’m kind of totally in love with the Mr. Carroll idea. Do I sniff an Alice in Wonderland retelling??? *grins*
GAH. I just loved all of this! Thank you so much for sharing with us. These are all such good things to remember!
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ASDFGHJKL!! Oh my GOODNESS, Christine!!! I’m responding to all the comments I’ve failed to respond to this past month and I just???? YOUR COMMENTS ARE THE LITERAL SWEETEST. <333 Ooh, yes! Usually my favorite ideas are the ones that spring up out of seemingly random nothingness, so I definitely get that! It's the BEST. XD And okay, but I'm so glad I'M not the only one who does this, because I was kind of worried people would think I was crazy for being inspired by other people's blog posts and stuf? Like I thought that might be weird for some reason?? But I don't see how it's any different from reading a book or watching a movie and getting hit over the head with a random idea, so….yeah. IT'S GOOD TO KNOW I'M NOT ALONE WITH THE RANDOMNESS. XD
ACK, THANK YOU. XD My brain is a very odd place, but it's happy it's loved. XD OH MY GOODNESS YES THE MR. CARROLL IDEA WAS PROBABLY MY FAVORITE. XD I LOVE Alice in Wonderland, so if I ever decide to do a retelling, I think it could be REALLY wacky and fun. Actually, I used to have an idea for a Red Queen retelling (from back BEFORE she became the Red Queen. Sound familiar? XD) but then Heartless by Marissa Meyer came out, and the last line of that book was literally the last line that I was going to be using for MY book, so yeah. That's not happening. XD But an Alice in Wonderland retelling? I might try it someday!!!
MEEP! Thank you so much for reading, and also for this lovely comment, Christine!!! This made me so so happy!!! <333
I LOVE THIS POST. SO MUCH. :DD When I was wee little writer, coming up with ideas was my MAIN struggle, and this would’ve helped little me SOOO MUCH. ^_^
However. I don’t usually tend to have this problem nowadays…XD I have FAAAAARR too many ideas swimming in my brain. XD
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ACK!!! Thank you SO MUCH, Madeline!!!! <333 This means the world to me, you have no idea… I really love ideas (coming up with them, getting smacked in the face with them, tearing them away from my muse before he's ready to give them to me), so writing a post about it was super fun to do!
Oh no!!! Not being able to come up with ideas is the WORST, but sometimes we just have to kick our muse to the curb and do the dirty work for ourselves, I guess. XD And OH MY WORD, WE ARE LIKE OPPOSITES!! When I was first starting out, I used to have a gazillion ideas swimming in my brain, to the point where my main problem was sticking with one long enough to actually finish it. Now that I'm older, though, and FORCE myself to finish what I start (usually XD), I find that I'm much more filtered on what sorts of ideas my brain lets occupy my time. (It's kind of annoying, actually? I think my muse is refusing to let me think of new ideas until I actually NEED a new idea. He's annoyingly territorial like that…) I've started keeping a notebook of ideas, though, so hopefully that will help me open up the idea door once again. XD
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I’ve gotten that question “where do you get your ideas?” and I just don’t know what to say????? Like they just appear???
One thing I like doing when I’m stuck is taking a walk, or if I stuck on a book I’ll just start writing out all the possibilities of what could happen next (like ALL of them). Great post!
Okay, but isn’t that question TERRIFYING??? I think it’s actually a magic spell that makes us forget literally EVERYTHING we ever knew about writing/idea-finding/creating. XD
Oooh! I absolutely LOVE both of these tips! I think I’ve heard that taking a walk when stuck really helps get the creative wheels turning again, but I can’t say as if I’ve ever tried it… I’m definitely going to have to try this next time I’m stuck, though!. And writing down all of the possibilities of what could happen next?? << I NEED TO TRY THIS, TOO. I think I've done something similar before, where I just sort of try to plot out how the scene should go, but I've never really gone off-the-wall with different things that could happen, and I think that could be really interesting to try. Thank you so much for these tips!!!! And MEEP, THANK YOU FOR THIS COMMENT, AS WELL!! <333 I'm so glad you enjoyed the post!
I dislike writer’s block so much. I think the writing random stuff one always works for me! Then sometimes I read it back and am completely horrified, confused, or intrigued about what I wrote. Also I kind of want to read all those ideas you had. The cloud son and the Alice and wonderland spin off? Very interesting :) As for camp nanowrimo, I’m doing horribly but it’s fine. I’ve had a busy week (April is actually the worst month possible for me to do camp nanowrimo) and I haven’t gotten much done. Plus, I have had writer’s block and very little time so I decided to write only poetry this year (I feel that it’s quicker to write). Not what I wanted to do, but I’m hoping to come back with something good in July :) I haven’t tried writing a novel in soooo long. Hope you camp nanowrimo starts going better!
Writer’s block is the WORST. I wish I could bash it in the face with a stick. XD Oh, yeah, writing random stuff is typically what gets me through, as well! It’s definitely one of the more interesting tips, because then you’ve actually written something (a step in the right direction), AND you might get a really weird and wacky idea out of it! Aww, thank you so much, Kirsten!! Honestly, I’m debating writing that Alice in Wonderland thing now. It’s nagging at my brain. XD
Honestly, I think there’s something in the air this April, because I had a SERIOUSLY rocky start, as well. I ended up lowering my goal in the second half of the month, which was kind of upsetting, but sometimes it has to be done. XD
But oh my word! Poetry is such a fun art form, though!! And you’re totally right. There’s always July for another Camp NaNo!! I’m actually really excited about your writing for this month, though! Your songs always sound super cool, so I bet your poetry is just as amazing! <33
Thank you :) and don’t feel bad about lowering your goal, you’re still making progress!
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True!! And making progress is really all that matters, right? XD