This 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.
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…
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!