Generate an Endless Supply of Writing Ideas
Episode #6 of the course How to build a strong writing habit by Frank McKinley
If you’re going to write every day, you need something to write about.
The scariest thing we writers face is running out of ideas. The truth is, ideas are always available. The key is to gather them before you need them.
Lies That Kill Ideas
You can’t build a list when your standards are too high.
Here are a few lies we believe that keep us from gathering ideas:
• The topic is too random
• I can’t think of anything (good enough, interesting, original, etc)
• I’m not that good a writer yet
Let’s address these misconceptions.
The topic is too random. That’s okay. You’re gathering ideas right now. You can refine it later. What might seem random can be developed into something extraordinary.
I can’t think of anything. Yes, you can. The problem that comes when you evaluate your idea as not good enough, not interesting, and not original is this: you’re playing the comparison game.
It’s not good enough. Compared to what? Your goal as a writer is to impart a message. You’re not in a contest, except maybe to win your reader’s attention. Find a way to do that, and your work will be good enough. At the idea stage, it’s too early to declare worthlessness.
It’s not interesting. To whom? Good luck finding something that interests everyone. It’s enough to share an interest with some people. And if you frame your idea in an interesting way, you’ll win some hearts.
It’s not original. In a sense, every idea is borrowed from one that came before. Originality is in the way you arrange your thoughts, ideas, and opinions.
I’m not that good a writer yet. You get better by writing. So make your best effort and know you’ll be better tomorrow. Today’s best is all you have, so make the most of it. Besides, you’re probably better than you think you are.
See a common thread here? Your job is to gather ideas. You’ll refine them later. So build an unfiltered list, with way more than you’ll ever use. As with editing, it’s easier when you have more than you need.
Now let’s learn a few ways to gather ideas.
Ideas Are Everywhere If You’ll Look Hard Enough
• Choose a broad topic and list small ideas inside it – branch out, explore, dive deep into a subtopic.
• Take time to observe. Walk and think an idea through as far as your mind will take you.
• Talk to your friends, coworkers, and even strangers about your idea.
• Ask lots of questions. What if? How come? How do you do that?
• Go to Quora and see what people want to know about your topic.
• Go to Google trends and see what comes from keywords on your topic.
• Go to Google search and enter words or phrases related to your topic.
• Join social media groups that talk about your topic.
• Watch YouTube videos and read articles about your idea.
• Do some experiments and write about what happened.
• Tell stories about your experience learning, working, or talking with someone.
Feel inspired yet? Do some or all of these things and you’ll be amazed how many ideas you’ll find.
Do This Now
Set aside time this week to gather ideas for next week’s writing. Keep them in a notebook of your choosing. Don’t filter until you get ready to write. What seems dull now might be fascinating when you dive in!
In our next lesson, we’ll learn some easy ways to make your writing stand out. See you there!
Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere) by Lisa Cron
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