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How to Get Ideas for Your Book | The Writing Process | The Litertarian
Where do writers get their ideas? It seems like a simple enough question, yet I hear it asked of authors in interview after interview. A witty response is usually driveled off that doesn’t really answer the question because it is an impossible question to answer. It is a different process for everyone (and can even differ idea to idea), and is never simple enough to describe in a quick and easy proclamation of “This is how to get the next brilliant idea for your novel!” This is the problem I see: people think they want the answer to the question “Where do you get your ideas?” But what they really want to know is something else entirely. Maybe it’s “how do I recognize ideas when I have them” or “how do I know my idea is good”, or, the worst case scenerio, “where do I find ideas that will make writing easy”. In case you haven’t heard, writing is hard. And if you don’t already have an idea to sink your literary teeth into, it will be even harder. The journey is full of self-doubt and uncertainty and there is never a clear-cut answer for any of the questions that are going to crop up along the way. You may question every decision, but no one can give you the right answers except yourself. These are important things to recognize & accept before you start the journey of the writing process. I wish someone would have told me this stuff when I began. But don’t let that scare you off either. Writing can also be incredibly rewarding, and when you hit on something true, it can resonate throughout time. In this post we are covering step one in The Writing Process:: Conception, or, how to find ideas for your book. Read on for all my writerly wisdom about coming up with your initial novel idea! Ideas come from the ether. We have thoughts all day long, and some of them make sense and some of them don’t. Some of them are related to what we are doing and experiencing in the moment, and some are completely random. Some may be brilliant, and some may be useless. Lack of ideas is almost never the problem, we have to make the space and take the time to recognize them. So “Where do you get your ideas” isn’t really what everyone wants to know when they ask that question. What they’re really asking is how to be more creative, or maybe how to recognize a good idea when one occurs to them, or even how to combine ideas into something interesting enough for a book. The answers to these aren’t easy either, but it’s somewhere to start. Nurturing the Creative Mind My first tip for finding ideas is to make sure you’re making the room for creativity in your life. If you are someone who is stuck in a daily grind routine who has a dream of one day being an author, but are waiting to start until the Big Idea hits you, it’s never going to happen. Ideas usually start small, and then the work begins. Carve out time in your routine for something creative. What works for me is waking up early & making sure I have the right apps on my phone for when I’m out and about (post on those coming soon). These two things provide me with opportunities in my day to spend being creative. One misconception about writing is that it has to be done in big long swaths of time. It does not. During NaNoWriMo, tons of my words come out of my breaks at work. Even in the early days of getting up early I was only getting around 45 minutes of time I could dedicate solely to writing. I’ve since taken to getting up even earlier to maximize that time, but the point is you don’t have to. Start by dedicating two lunch hours a week to your writing. Bring a notebook to work with you, or use an app on your phone. Even reading articles from other writers (like you may find on this blog) or listening to writerly podcasts as you do other things can help get you in the right mindset. Start Early. Try to start your creative work as early in the day as possible. Lots of your ideas will come from your subconscious mind. Getting your creative mind started first thing in the morning is going to set up your subconscious mind to be working on whatever task you give it that morning all day – without you even realizing it! You’ll be surprised how many ideas and breakthroughs begin to happen for you once you implement this tip! Freewrite. If writing is your creative passion, then you should fill your time for creativity with writing as much as possible. If you don’t have a project going yet, then just start by freewriting. Sit down with your mind open (you can also use prompts, if you feel like you have no ideas) and set a timer. Ten minutes, half an hour, it’s up to you, but don’t let your pen (or keyboard keys) stop writing for the entire span of time. If you veer off subject, all the better, if it turns into a diary, so be it. Even if you have to physically write, “I still have five minutes left on the timer and I have no idea what to write about next, this is stupid,” keep going. I will be mentioning freewriting again in the brainstorming step because it can be such a powerful tool. It can be helpful any time you’re feeling stuck, because guess what? The beginning of the process is not the only time you might feel like you have no good ideas. Even after you feel like you’ve found your idea & start your project, you might get part of the way through it and feel like you’ve used up every idea that has ever occurred to you (writing is hard, I tried to warn you). The key is pushing past these feelings and writing anyway. Keep a journal. One of the oldest pieces of writing advice I ever heard (along with write what you know), was that if you wanted to be a writer, you had to keep a journal. Journals can be a place to record memories, braindumps, or to explore new things. It doesn’t have to be diary style. Try describing your day as if you were the narrator and your self is just a character in the story. Try describing the room you’re in, in a way that is interesting. Write about a person you encountered during your day. Record your dreams. Write about your favorite stories and why you love them so much. Keeping a journal is probably not going to spark a million ideas for you right away, or cause you to have any big breakthroughs, but getting in the habit of observing the world in a new way could certainly help your writerly self get into the right frame of mind for creation. Ask yourself: What if? Just asking this simple question over and over and over again is going to open up more possibilities to you than anything else. Again, this will work in the brainstorming phase as well, but as far as generating ideas, I’m not sure you can find a more effective strategy. If you’re starting from scratch & have no idea what you want to write about, you can start with someone else’s great idea. What is a movie you love? Your favorite book? Think of a moment in that story, and ask ‘What If??’ Change it. Wreck the moment. Wreak havoc. Change the characters or the circumstances. Story is about conflict, after all. Just see what happens. As an exercise in creativity, let’s say you’re standing in line at the bank. This is the perfect place to start daydreaming. Ask yourself what if… What if someone robbed the bank while you were standing in line? What if you get to the teller and they tell you your accounts have been drained? What if instead of the amount of money you are actually depositing, you had a check in your hands for one million dollars? What if when you got home from the bank you found a baby sitting on your doorstep in a basket & a note saying it was left for you to care for? What if instead of your local bank, you were standing in line at Gringotts? It’s make believe – anything can happen! This exercise can help remind you of that. Recognizing Good Ideas Once you’ve got your mind open to new ideas and your creative mind is warmed up, how do you tell which ideas are good ideas? This is a tougher question to answer. For the record, any idea could be a good idea if you put enough work into it or look at it from the right angle. A lot of the process of imagining a whole book is combining a whole bunch of ideas. If something isn’t working, try moving your ideas around, go fish style. Try new pairs of ideas, put things together that seem like they’d never work and then imagine a world where they do. Put the work into brainstorming, but more importantly give yourself the time to spend thinking about your ideas. So much of my own writing process, in the beginning, is just daydreaming. When I have the first inkling of an idea, I imagine a million other scenes that would fit with what I’ve imagined so far. Some of them will stick, most of them will not. My advice is to look for something that excites you. Writing a novel is a long process, and it can be rough going. If you can find an idea that you love & become passionate about, then it can help carry you through the hard parts of the process. When you find the right idea, it won’t feel like really hard work to find the rest of the story, it’ll start to come naturally. If you’re lucky, it may even come all at once. One of the most important things I can tell you about this step in the process is, do not stress yourself out about it. The moment you stress about not having an idea, the further away it will get & the harder you’ll have to work for it. This early in the process, try to let go of that image of having finished writing a novel. It’s too much pressure. If you think about how much work you have ahead of you, it’ll overwhelm you and stall your thinking again. Don’t force it. The ideas will come if you relax and open your mind to them. Recognize again that this is the first step in the writing process. There is plenty of time to stress later, heh. Conception is at the same time the most important step in the writing process, and the least important. If you think about it, the idea you begin your project with is almost of no consequence. The real work begins in step two: Brainstorming, and by the time you’ve finished step five, Drafting, your original idea may be completely unrecognizable. And yet, you can’t begin without some kind of idea to spark the whole adventure. I hope those of you who struggle with finding ideas found this post helpful! If it was, please drop a comment below with your favorite tips from today’s article! Happy writing, Litertarians, and good luck!