Throughout my life, I’ve been that person with the vivid imagination. Usually, it was my imagination that would get me into trouble as the worst scenarios would enter my head at the weirdest times. I won’t tell you how I made myself a little crazy by envisioning the terrible things that could happen to a kid who was late coming home.
My writing career started late in life. I was a late bloomer. Once writing became a huge part of my life, though, all that imagination came in handy. I had to write a dozen short stories if only to get my ideas to stop banging around in my head like fluttering birds trying to find an open window. I don’t toss ideas out or struggle with whether they’re the BEST plot for a book.
I write them.
Sometimes, they fizzle out after 10 pages. Other times, they become a novella. All ideas have value. They might fill the pages of your idea book or become a full-length novel. It’s important to start carrying a notebook or download an app for your phone where you can collect those little snippets as they happen. You’ll never remember it later like you’ve promised yourself.
Where do you find ideas if you feel like they’re not rattling around in your brain already?
There’s no big lightbulb over your head when you get an idea. It’s not an ephipany moment when the stars align and a ray of light shines down from the heavens and a winged unicorn flies down with a piece of paper in his mouth with your story idea on it. It comes from little moments, pieced-together thoughts and half-formed wisps of an idea. Stop waiting for THE GREAT STORY IDEA.
Instead, stop stressing and open yourself to the process.
When you get to work on Monday, listen to that boring story from your co-worker, Ted, about his weekend attending a craft fair with his wife. While he’s talking, imagine if he’d tripped in the fair and knocked over a booth. What if the booth owner spent days and weeks on those creations (which is likely true, but the situations you’re imagining don’t have to be true at all), and flew into a rage over the accident. What would happen next? There could be a brawl in the craft fair. The owner could seethe with anger and sue Ted. If the owner is actually a killer who decided to try a new hobby, things could get hairy for Ted.
While it might not be the basis of a book, it’s an IDEA. It might turn into nothing. Likely that’ll be the case, but what if you use that later in a novel? You could be looking for a twist in the middle of a boring stage of your work in progress and remember this mind ramble that you had listening to your boring colleague.
Work it Like a Muscle
You have imagination. You might be shaking your head at me right now, but listen, it’s true. It might not be a muscle you work as often as you should, but imagination is there. There’s a paperweight of responsibility on it. It’s under piles and piles of extra things in your mind like coordinating soccer carpool or . When people get to be adults, they stop letting their mind wander. They become serious with responsibility. We all have to be adults around here, I guess, but let your mind
Exercise your muscles. Write down every idea you have. Don’t analyze it. Stop editing your ideas before they even reach the paper. Just write them down. You can pick the best ones later.
Let your curiosity guide you to new places. Wonder “what if” when you are at work, listening to the news, reading a celebrity gossip story, watching your kids play.
Many stories started as the question “What If” and I’m not the originator of that bit of wisdom. I believe it was Stephen King who was reading a story about a pet’s death. He wondered what if that pet came back to life. The question became the idea for Pet Cemetery.
News Stories Generate Writing Ideas:
A thief robs a convenience store.
What if… the thief puts all his ill-gotten gains in a plastic bag with a small hole in it?
Change and loot trickles out of the bag as the thief makes his escape. An observant detective uses the change as a trail find him minutes after the robbery because he actually lived nearby.
An elderly man is shown on television walking in a blizzard.
What if… he’s walking to the bench where he sits and talks to his wife.
His wife has been dead for almost one year. He is walking in the blizzard because he plans on sitting on the bench where they first met and letting the storm take him to her.
I’m not sure who first said this, but it’s cliche, now. And like most cliches it’s based on truth. The reason many people sit in front of the computer, blank-faced with drool forming at the corners of their mouth is because they are letting the blank page scare them. They’re scared they “have nothing to say.” “It won’t be good enough.” Tell that little voice to shut up and start typing, or writing, or scribbling with crayons on construction paper. However you want to transfer your story to written form, do that.
Writing will always generate more ideas. It’s like a car engine. Once you’re warmed up, you can really move. If you really have no ideas at all – it’s scary, and you’ve tried to absorb all that’s going on around you – try some writing prompts to get that motor warmed up and ready to go. This PDF full of writing ideas has over 65 story prompts to help.