Recently I got an email from blog reader, Emma, and she said:
“I haven't written in a long time because I can't think of a single thing to write about. I've been trying for weeks now, but I just keep on hitting blank walls. Nothing grabs my attention anymore. When I used to write, if I got a good idea I would get really excited and the story would almost write itself. Now, if I do come up with an idea, my mind automatically thinks of other books or tv shows I've seen that have a similar plot line . . . I was just wondering if there was any advice you could give me?”
I could feel the frustration in Emma’s email. First of all, Emma, I want you to know you’re not alone. Most of us have struggled to find ideas at one point or another—especially creative, fresh, original ideas.
And second, since I don’t have all the answers, I’d love for ALL of YOU to chime in the comments with your advice to all those who are struggling to find original ideas. I want this to post to be a way we can help each other.
The fact is, it does seem like almost every good idea has already been done. And it’s all too easy to second-guess ourselves and to let our worries leech the joy and passion from writing.
So here are a few pieces of advice I have for Emma and anyone struggling to find original ideas when they feel like they don’t have any:
1. Uncage the beast:
I’m in the beginning phase of writing my next book. This is the stage where 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 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 uncage the wild and untamed imagination deep inside.
I don’t leash it or try to fence it in with proper boundaries. Instead, I let it run around like a screaming naked banshee. The less we interfere with the wild beast of our imagination, the more creative it will be.
2. Make the beast even bigger.
Once I have pages of ideas, I start going through my list and pick out the things I like best. Then I start to say things like, “This is wild. But what could make it wilder?” “I like this situation, but what could make it more tense?”
In other words, at this stage, I want to begin to narrow down some of my ideas, pick the freshest and most original, and find ways to dress them up into something different and bigger than what’s been done before.
We may not always be able to find ideas that are utterly and completely unique. In fact, most writing gurus will tell us that every plot has already been written. But . . . we can take our ideas and ad a twist that is uniquely ours.
3. Finally, take the good, bad, and hairy and just write.
At some point, we have to take what we’ve got and just start writing. Even if we think our ideas are boring, cliché, and predictable, we 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 beastly ideas I come up with before the first draft, invariably once I start writing, my ideas metamorphose 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 in ways that aren’t possible during the planning phase.
Writing friend Heather Sunseri said this in a recent tweet, “Sometimes when you're unsure of what is supposed to happen next in your story, you just have to start writing. 'Next' will reveal itself.”
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)
So, what advice would you give Emma or anyone else struggling to find ideas? What’s the best way YOU find original ideas when you have none?