One of the most common questions that readers ask writers is: “How do you keep coming up with book ideas? I just don’t understand how you can find so many different stories to write.”
I recently finished writing my third book this year and am in the process of plotting another. You’d think my mind would be blank, that my creative juices would be sucked dry, that I’d have nothing left.
Instead my mind is exploding with all sorts of ideas and possibilities. I actually LOVE this early stage where the story ideas are simmering and taking shape, where ANYTHING is possible and my imagination can run wild.
But, you may be asking, where do these ideas come from and how do I figure out which ideas to use and which to toss away? Here are a few techniques that work for me:
1. Brainstorm with abandon.
While I’m researching and plotting, I spend hours upon hours brainstorming and coming up with ideas. I have a spiral notebook handy wherever I go, and I keep a running list of any and every idea that I could possibly include in my new book. I study people, emotions, plots, and events in whatever I see—TV shows, movies, books, people I see in passing, situations I hear about, etc.
I don’t throw out anything at this point. I allow myself to list everything—even if it’s already been used, even if it sounds dumb. I scour books and biographies, and I jot down all the things that sound even the least bit interesting. I don’t hold anything back.
I unfetter my imagination and let it have free reign. I give myself permission to dream big, to see possibilities in everything, to ask “what if” with childlike abandon. Writing down one idea usually leads to another thought, and another, and another.
2. Focus on a few ideas and make them even better.
Once I have pages of ideas, I start going through my list and picking out the things I like best and narrowing down the ideas that I think might work. I try to hone in on the ideas that are more original, unique, interesting, out-of-the-ordinary, freakish, or fascinating.
I figure if some of the ideas really fascinate me, then it will probably be something fun for my readers.
After I have a narrower list, I start to say things like,
• This is wild. But what could make it wilder?
• I like this situation, but what could make it tenser?”
• What’s worse than that?
• How can I make this even larger than life?
• What’s more dangerous?
• What other conflict can I add?
3. Finally, just write.
At some point, I have to take what I’ve got and just start writing. Even if I think my ideas are boring, cliché, and predictable, I have to write.
I’ve found that the process of writing is one of the biggest keys for stirring my creativity even more. No matter what ideas I come up with before the first draft, invariably once I start writing, my ideas grow and change into something so much more than I could have planned.
When we fill the page with words, when we work our writing muscles hard, when we push ourselves to get something on the paper, then we’re able to open our imagination even further. New ideas come to life that aren’t possible during the planning phase.
Summary: “You need to come up with hundreds of ideas, toss out the ones that don’t grab you, and then nurture and develop what’s left.” ~Bell (Plot & Structure)