Idea Hunter

PortraitThis post by Craig Snider.

There are typically two breeds of writers. There are the types who have lots of writing ideas. And, then there’s the kind who, well–don’t. For that breed with lots of ideas. We hate you. And, as such, you are not the topic of conversation today… So there. For the rest of us, how can we find an idea that inspires us to take up the pen and begin a story? Let’s see if we can try to find out.

Idea hunting is a skill passed down from our knuckle-dragging forefathers. It takes patience, skill, and yes, a little bit of luck. The first thing to know about idea hunting is that it isn’t an exact science. It is, in fact, something more of an art. Though, practice will help alleviate the level of difficulty.

To be a good idea hunter, you need a  proper hunting weapon. The weapon is often a matter of personal preference for the eager writer, and you’ll have to find the one that works best for you. But, here is a list of some of the top choices:

1. Word Association: This is a very basic and small caliber weapon, and is more like a starter pistol than a hunting rifle. It isn’t likely to bring in an idea large enough to feed your growing story, but it could stave off absolute hunger, and perhaps provide enough sustenance to keep you going until you can bring in the big one. This simple weapon is most effective in helping loosen up those mind muscles, getting the thoughts moving, and opening gateways of thought. So, to use Word Association, write a list of words down. They should be random and unrelated. Now, go down the list and next to each word, write down the very first word it makes you think of. It doesn’t have to be connected. Don’t think about it, just write. First word to come to your head, then move on. This weapon is also great training for our next item.

2. Brainstorming: This is a slightly more advanced form of hunting than Word Association, but again, this will not likely land you that trophy idea worthy of that place on your wall. It will however, allow you to go places where that idea could be hiding, stealthily concealed just beyond your Facebook and Netflix. Regardless of which model of Brainstorming you choose, you will find that you have to once again open up the mind in order for it to work. If you’re trying to force it, you’ll end up shooting your face off. So, whether you are using pen and paper, or if you have a program, the process is the same. Begin with something very general. If you want to explore a concept, or a character, or even a theme, write that word in the center and circle it, and then begin free associating words from it by drawing radiating lines to the new words. Allow your mind to flow freely, writing down any connected (whether loosely or not) words/thoughts/concepts/ideas. And also feel free to use one of the resulting words to create a new branch. When you do, circle that word to indicate it is a new branch of thought. Keep doing that until the paper/screen is full. Also, you may begin noticing connections in some of your ideas. That’s great. Draw connecting lines between them to be sure you’ll recognize those connections later. The point is not that you’ll take down the idea directly, but that it will become caught in the web of related words.

Nailed it…

3. Free Writing: This is an advanced weapon that requires a bit more patience to learn. It involves time. If you’ve been practicing with your Brainstorming, you may already have a small idea that you’ve been able to snare. If so, take it out and we’ll use it for bait. With your smaller idea as bait, you’ll begin your Free Write. It doesn’t matter where. Let your unconscious mind guide you. Just begin, and then keep writing. It doesn’t matter if it is any good, and in fact, it is vital that you not look back over your work until you are finished, and that you don’t stop until the end. At first, set a timer, say 10 to 15 minutes, and just write continuously. If you draw a blank, just keep writing your brainstorming word over and over until something clicks. This will take practice. When you are finished,  go back through and see if you’ve caught anything. The more times you dredge that mind stream, the more likely you are to come up with that really magnificent rainbow idea.

4. Journal/Dream Journal: This weapon has been around for many centuries, and though it requires very little practice to master, it does require persistence. The benefit of the journal is that its ammunition is endless. It comes from your everyday life and experiences. The more ammunition you put it in, the more chances you have of hitting that monster idea where it counts, right in the insight. To best use this one, be sure to put in as much information as you can, because not only is this good ammo, but good writing practice. Get used to using everyday, even if you felt nothing of interest happened. You’ll be surprised how you begin drawing material out of even the most mundane of daily activities, and you’ll also become much more observant of the world happening around you. Dream Journals are a bit of a different form of this weapon, and can require a little bit more work to keep them functioning well. This type of journal has to be used immediately upon waking. Some ideas are best taken down early in the day, and the ideas that emerge from dreams are often unlike any other you will come across. But, be very careful, as dream ideas can often be very volatile and dangerous, and when considering mounting one, you will find they are often much more beautiful to you than they are to others…

With enough practice, you can be a great idea hunter like–this guy…

There, you now have an introductory primer on 4 of the most effective idea hunting weapons. But, know this: the true idea hunter carries all of his weapons, as one never knows where an idea may show up. You must always be ready.

Until next time fellow hunters, write on!


24 thoughts on “Idea Hunter

  1. Craig,

    I enjoyed this post. I use an improv writing group to get my ‘creative’ side going. Three different prompts and three varied writing times. Does wonders for me. If I didn’t have that option, any and all your ideas would do the trick. Thank you. Doris


    1. Doris, thanks to Steve Goff I use improv techniques when I write now too. It is a great way to generate ideas, silence your inner critic, and get out of your own way! And prompts are gifts from the writing gods! Some people don’t like them. But, if you have a block, nothing works better than a good prompt. Even if it has nothing to do with your story, sometimes just writing, anything, will help get you out of it.



  2. Your post prompted one question. Is Ideal Hunting protected by the First Amendment? That leads to a second question. Does it have its version of the NRA, perhaps the National Idea Hunting Association or NIHA?


    1. Why yes, Mike, it certainly does. In fact, they have a motto. “Stories don’t kill people, boring stories kill people.”

      It is protected by the First Amendment, only if the idea is over a hundred words, has more than one point, and it isn’t the mother of one or more other little ideas. No permit required, just good sense, and a firm grasp on unreality.



  3. Brilliant post, Craig. I had just started to write a list of possiblilites for my next time travel novel and bingo- you’ve given me the impetus to get it going! The brainstorming is the one…for now anyway. 🙂


    1. Yay! I used to avoid brainstorming because it felt kind of like work. Hahaha! But, since I’ve been doing improv, I’ve seen how ideas can be easily generated from free thinking and disparate concepts. Glad the new novel is on its way! Keep at it Nancy!


      1. Craig, I’m so sorry. As I was reading Travis’s post this morning I realized I had used his name in my comment on your post. I know you’re not Travis and Travis knows you’re not Travis but somewhere along the way I seem to have mixed up your names. Please forgive me. Sometimes I get a little ahead of myself! Have a great day!


  4. Good stuff Travis. I have used the freestyle writing in a writer’s group and it’s fascinating where that can lead. I’m intrigued by the map and connecting the dots. What a marvelous idea! I’m saving this for reference. You’ve made so many good points. Thanks for posting!


    1. Thanks Leander! I appreciate the read. I’ve really come to embrace brainstorming, as I struggle so much to come up with what to write about. If someone says, “write me a story,” I blank. But, if someone says, “write me a story about an autistic boy,” I suddenly start getting all of these ideas! Sometimes, some people become more creative when given some sort of structure to work within.


  5. Fun post and some great ideas. Writing prompts can be so helpful. Right now my prob isn’t ideas, it’s getting them down on paper. Any techniques for that? Skinning and preserving maybe?


    1. Funny you mentioned that. I was thinking of that very thing! Mind reader you…

      Well, I have to give it some thought, but here is what I think of immediately.

      I’m not a huge fan of outlining, but it is important to have some sort of ending in mind. Once you have your idea (the premise), and some idea of the ending, by then you will likely have created a couple of characters with which to populate the story. The best thing to do is start writing, especially if it is a short story. If you’re trying to write novels and are struggling, shift down to doing shorts for a while. You can always turn those shorts into longer stories.

      Shorts are essential practice for the novel writer. Some would disagree, but to me, it is a way of learning how to create and tell a story in a condensed form. Yes, novels have a much more complicated and intricate structure, but many of the fundamentals are the same.


  6. Great post, Craig! Thanks for these great idea hunting strategies … I just need the time to sit and plan. I have several ideas for stories and book manuscripts and just sent in a short story to Chicken Soup for the Soul. Now, on to the books…!


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