Technology Manager, Poet, History Maniac. Also, a prolific writer on varied topics
John Steinbeck has rightly said.
“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple, learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”
Yes. Ideas are the lifeline for any writer worth his salt. But that brings us to a question.
Where do ideas come from?
Deep down, all ideas stem from creativity and creativity stems from problem-solving. Ideas are all about finding problems to solve in the first place, perceiving them, defining them, explaining them, and recording them. So whatever be the reason, ideas can never go dry till the wheels of civilization are running and everybody has an inherent capacity to generate ideas irrespective of their intelligence.
And the art of getting ideas is all about going after them and finding them. You can find them in a beautiful line of code, a marketing campaign, the blabbering of a toddler, or even in the mundane activity of cleaning or decluttering your house. They are the “strange jewels” hidden with you as Elizabeth Gilbert puts it in her bestseller book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. You just need to go there and get it.
OK. That brings us to the next question.
Why do I always get bad ideas? My ideas are hardly worth writing or exploring. There seems to be no point in wasting time on stupid ideas. Isn’t it?
Wrong. If an idea is in your mind, however bad it is, just spit it out. Ideas are like a traffic jam on the highway. The traffic has to start moving only then good ideas can be released.
Not convinced? OK. Let us do the Maths.
There are 365 days in a year and let us say you generate at least 5 ideas (good, bad, worst) in a day. So in a year, you end up with (365 * 5) = 1825 ideas in a year. Not bad at all!
Ok, let us apply Pareto’s principle to your ideas.80% of your ideas are trash and not worth spending time and only 20% of the ideas are worth spending the time. So (20% of 1825) = 365.And out of these 365 ideas, even if 10% of the ideas are real killer ones, you end up with 36 great ones. Not bad at all!!! In fact, you need to be proud of it.
Yes, you might still argue here. Brainstorming new story ideas isn't always easy... We all have a million ideas for stories, but, they magically disappear the minute we sit down to write. Hours are wasted staring at a blank page. And, no matter how many cups of coffee are in our systems, we still can’t find the energy to kick our muses into gear and develop story ideas.
Have no fear: I have five ways that will help pump up your creativity muscle and find things to write about. Here they are.
The “What if” method
At the heart of every story is a “what if” scenario. Use it to generate ideas to write.
What if a boy woke up to find he’s become a full-grown man overnight?
What if the US president reverse-ages into a small baby?
What if an alien civilization invites you to write about them?”
And so on…. the possibilities of “what-ifery” are endless. Another version of what if can be contrafactual thinking. Counterfactual thinking is, as it states, counters to the facts. These thoughts consist of the What if? and the If I had only… that occur when thinking of how things could have turned out differently. Counterfactual thoughts include things that — in the present — could never happen in reality because they solely pertain to past events.
“What if Roger Federer was a basketball champion instead of tennis?
“What would happen if we live beneath the earth’s surface?”
And so on…
Once you’ve developed an extensive list, choose or combine the idea(s) that most excite your interest, then challenge yourself to write new a story based on each question.
Exaptation is the process by which features acquire functions for which they were not originally adapted or selected.
“An organism develops a specific trait optimized for a specific use, but then the trait gets hijacked for a completely different function.”
A classic example can be bird feathers. The earliest feathers belonged to dinosaurs not capable of flight. So, they must have first evolved for something else. Researchers have speculated early feathers may have been used for attracting mates or keeping warm. But later on, feathers became essential for modern birds’ flight.
We can use the same process to bring out ideas as well. Basically, the key is discovering a new use for existing functionality. For example,
Applying a cooking recipe to a UX design.
Applying programming principles to be a good writer
Identifying commonalities between writing and programming
And so on….
The idea here is not to think out of the box but to use the ideas from multiple boxes and create new uses of the same. This ability forces the mind to think from newer perspectives and different angles other than what is expected.
Steal like an artist
In the bestseller book, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, author Austin Kleon explains that the concept of stealing like an artist means that there are no original ideas left and all that is left is an original perspective that any creator brings to the table. In short, it is the treatment of the idea and not the idea itself that creates the difference.
In Austin Kleon’s own words.
"You don’t need to be a genius; you just need to be yourself. No artist's work is ever completely original, and that trying to be completely original will daunt an artist and eventually smothers his creativity.”
So how do we steal like an artist? It is simple. Prepare a list of all the authors whose stories, writing style, and plots intrigue you. Read through the plots and identify points where you can add your own twist and give your own treatment. The idea is to redevelop the plot in your own style and perspective.
Find the best time to get ideas
The best time to get Ideas is when you’re at your groggiest.
A study by Mareike Wietha and Rose Zacks found that creative ideas often come at our least optimal times. Their experiment measured insight ability and analytic ability, two components of the creative idea process. Participants identified themselves as either morning people or evening people and underwent a series of tests at different times of the day.
They found that strong morning-types were better at solving insightful problems in the evening when they apparently weren’t at their best. Exactly the same pattern, but in reverse, was seen for people who were the night owls; they performed more creatively when they were unfocused in the morning.
The key is that; our focus broadens when our minds are at our suboptimal level. And as a result, we are able to see more opportunities and create more connections as our minds are open and in free-flowing mode.
So the best way to generate ideas to allow your mind to wander in these times. Go for a walk, dream about something fantastic, or even take a hot shower. As you do these unrelated activities, your brain activity increases, lighting up circuits within it and creating new connections.
Lastly, create positivity to inspire you
When we think, speak or write, we are activating a projector in our minds as well as in other’s minds. If the projector is showing a bad, demotivating movie, nobody (including you) would want to see it. The picture you show determines how you and the others will react to it.
If you hear the word “Problem” you create pictures of something difficult and hard to solve. If you use the word “challenge” instead, your mind creates pictures of fun and something exciting to work on.
As David Schwartz says in his book, The Magic of Thinking Big
“Deposit only positive thoughts in your memory bank. Withdraw only positive thoughts. Let the others fade away. And your confidence, that feeling of being on top of the world, will zoom upward.”
The key here is to focus on generating ideas and giving a positive spin to them so that they can inspire you to move forward. Simply put, your ideas need to be in a recorded form that eggs you on to work on them and push them to completion. There are many ways of doing it.
Go for a walk and fill a notepad with quotes, anecdotes, observations, and information about daily things that make you happy. While these are not ideas yet, one of these observations can transform into one. Similarly, if you are a cookery writer, you can put small “post-it” notes with exciting recipes that interest you on your fridge door. If you’re a visual thinker, get that Pinterest board stocked full of inspiration, photos, and concepts. And so on….
Remember the key is to get inspired by ideas to do something new and not getting bogged down or sucked by them. Good writing is all about getting inspired to do something that pushes you to the edge, into the impossible.
As Arthur C. Clarke has rightly said.
“The only way of finding the limits of the possible is by going beyond them into the impossible.”