How to Use Forced Association

02.08.2017 |

Episode #8 of the course How to overcome writer’s block by Jurgen Wolff


“Forced association” is a method for generating ideas. In this lesson, you’ll discover how to use it when you’re stuck on a particular scene or character, rather than blocked in general.


The Two Elements You Need

Forced association means finding a connection between a known element and one that is random. It’s easier to understand via an example:

Let’s say you are writing a romantic comedy and you’re stuck on the scene in which a young man first asks the young woman out on a date. You know you want it to go wrong in some way, but you can’t come up with anything specific.

The guy asking for a date is the element you choose, the topic for which you want to come up with new ideas.

The random element is a list of a dozen or more words you choose randomly from a newspaper, magazine, or dictionary. Here are a few I’ve chosen that way for us to use in this lesson:

• Hospital

• Teacher

• Jealousy

• Exercise

• Rat


Putting Them Together

Next, you see what ideas come up when you juxtapose the two elements. For instance, asking for a date + “hospital.”

Perhaps he asks her for a date as they’re having lunch. Before she can answer, she has an allergic reaction and he has to rush her to the hospital.

Or she’s a nurse at a hospital, and he goes there to ask her for a date but faints when he sees a blood transfusion going on.

Or he accompanies her to the pet hospital to pick up her dog, and the dog attacks him.

Naturally, this works more easily when you have specific characters in mind because you’ll know all about them and their lives.

Your goal is to jot down at least a dozen options, ideally 20 or 30. Write down even the ideas you know won’t work because that will get them out of your mind and keep the flow going.


Tips for Using Forced Association

Go through the same process with each word on your list. If there is one that doesn’t bring up any new ideas, skip to the next one.

You don’t have to stick with just the word itself, you can let it start a flow of thoughts. For example, maybe hospital makes you think of ambulance, which makes you think of police, and the idea pops into your mind that maybe as he’s about to ask her for the date, he sees somebody committing a crime and gets involved, and their first date ends up being at the police station.

Keep going! Don’t stop when you have an idea that you think would work because there may be another, even better, idea just around the corner.


If You Are More Visual

You can do the same thing with images you choose randomly from magazines or newspapers or images you see on your computer.


Choose the Best One—Afterward

Don’t spend time judging the individual ideas as you come up with them, because that stops the flow. Jot them all down. When you have a full list, go back over them and choose the one that you think works best.

Now you have a method that can help you come up with fresh ideas any time you are stuck. Tomorrow, you’ll learn three more quick and quirky ways to do that.

All the best,



Recommended book

Creativity Now by Jurgen Wolff. In this book, you’ll find 25 ways to get into a creative mood, 25 ways to generate ideas, 25 ways to turn ideas into action, and 25 inspirational case studies.


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