No matter if you write articles, books, or poems, continuously coming up with ideas can seem intimidating. It can seem time-consuming, but it actually doesn't take much time or effort at all. You can have a steady stream of ideas as you live your normal life. It's really all about being conscious and mindful of the process. The rest is cake.
1. Become a What-ifer - if you're not one already
During the 2015 ANWA writing conference, Brandon Mull talked about being a what-ifer. For example, he was working on his Beyonders series and he was trying to figure out what the portal would be. He was at the zoo with his family, and he was enjoying looking at the hippos. When one opened his mouth, he thought about what would happen if someone fell in there. And so the portal was born.
Some people are natural what-ifers. I'm one of those people. I just didn't realize it at first. Mine generally manifests itself in thinking of the worst-case scenario for real-life situations. However, now that I'm more aware of it, I do find that I'm a what-ifer when it comes to coming up with story ideas. I have a recurring daydream that I can freeze time whenever I wanted. I could nap or just be a more successful and productive person. It would be awesome! But then my brains starts to think about how pausing time for everyone else but myself would affect my body and relationships. And you can imagine how it builds from there.
If you're already a natural what-ifer, don't consider your thoughts as merely daydreams. Think of them as potential stories you could write one day.
If you're not a natural what-ifer, don't despair. There's hope. I promise. Take it a step at a time and train your brain. Let your mind wander. That's really the best way to get started. Develop your curiosity, and you'll develop solid story ideas along the way.
2. Read Inside and Outside Your Preferred Genre
The only way to be a better writer is to be a better reader, and the same idea applies to brainstorming story ideas. Reading puts your brain in a creative zone, and that's where story ideas are born and raised. For example, while reading Atlantia by Allie Condie, I was inspired by her main character choice - a siren. It made me want to research mythical creatures and pick a unique one to write about.
No matter what you read, just keep your brain turned on. Focus on what you're reading, but the back of your brain will continually work to formulate the story ideas.
3. Find Your Quiet Time
The world is loud. It's distracting. Take a moment each day to find your quiet time. This could be as simple as staying in the shower a little longer, letting your mind wander as the sound of the water drowns out everything else. Some of my best writing epiphanies have happened while I was taking a shower.
If you can't get away from the noise, use ear plugs or headphones to get into your own little world. Whatever you have to do to find your quiet time, it's worth it. In the quietest moments of our lives, stories deep inside us can come out and remind us that they're there.
4. Get Moving
While finding some quiet can help with formulating story ideas, so can getting your body moving. When your body is moving, it's easier to quiet your brain. While this may seem counter-intuitive when you want your brain to work, shutting off your active brain will allow your mind to wander slowly, and it allows thoughts that may be pushed down by more aggressive ones to surface. Sometimes you won't know that you have a story inside of you until you quiet your brain and let it come out naturally.
5. Become a People-Watcher
Story inspiration is all around you. If you don't already people-watch on a regular basis, it's time to start. For some of us, it comes naturally. For me, I've been doing it since I was young. In fact, I come from a family of people-watchers. When my mother wanted to go to the mall, my dad and my siblings would park ourselves on a bench and just watch people walk by, live their lives, and interact with each other.
If that doesn't naturally make you curious about them, take a moment to create their story in your head. If someone is loud and boisterous, think of something that could've happened to them as a child to shape their personality. Or, see that odd man in the corner yelling at passerbys or with that high-pitched squawking laugh? Tell his story in your head. Pay attention to his movements, his mannerisms, and the look in his eye.
Studying the behavior and movements of others can translate into good writing. It will help you write more realistically, helping readers connect with your story and your characters.
6. Write it Down
One of the biggest lies a writer will ever tell herself is that she'll remember a story idea without writing it down. Yes, it may happen sometimes, but the idea - at least in my experience - is never as pure or as solid as when it first pops into my head. If I don't write it down right away, it's like the original idea is slightly out of my grasp. I can capture the essence, but not the power of the original thought. Frankly, it's just not worth it. Trust me. I've lost many good story ideas this way. Well, I think I have; I can't actually remember if they were good now.
But let's get real. It's rarely convenient to sit down and write down your idea. You could be at work, a kid's birthday party, or on your way to the grocery store. A few years ago, I found a precious little notebook at a bookstore. I just toss it in my purse, and it's always there when I need it. If a little book won't work for you, type it into your phone. No matter how you record it, write it down or make note of it.
If you're the type to have awesome dreams that could make great stories, keep a pad of paper and a pen next to your bed. Whatever it takes, make the effort. You'll thank yourself for it later. Promise.
Your turn - how do you brainstorm for story ideas? Have any of the above methods worked for you?
I'm an adjunct creative writing professor and freelance writer, but I dream of being a published novelist. This is my journey.