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A Good Idea is Hard to Find

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Morgan
(@morgan-broadhead)
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I'm not one of those writers blessed with an abundance of terrific ideas to write about. I just finished reading a post by Tobias Buckell over on John Scalzi's Whatever page ( https://whatever.scalzi.com/2021/11/10/the-big-idea-tobias-s-buckell-2/). Tobias says he always felt like he was taking sips from an idea firehose. I've never felt that way. I've always been that parched guy in the desert wringing the last precious drops from a dried-out water pouch.

I suspect this is the largest factor for why it takes me so long to write a story. Half my time is spent just thinking of something to write. That inner critic doesn't help any either. He sits in the back of my head, legs crossed in his chair by the fire, picking lint off his pressed pants and looking down his nose at me. "That's already been done a million times," he says, yawning. "No one will want to read that."

Somewhere I read something that suggested my problem isn't a lack of ideas, but that I simply have TOO MANY ideas already, like dollar bills whirling around inside one of those vortex tubes. Some people just have a hard time snagging out a single idea among all those moving options to write about.

Either way, it's terribly frustrating. Has anyone come across any resources they can share to help those of us who struggle coming up with good ideas to write about? And by "good", I mean ideas that are unique and exciting enough to make us want to spend a few weeks writing and shaping them into a compelling story.

Thanks!

"Writers WRITE. And they finish what they start."
— Chuck Wendig
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Posted : November 10, 2021 8:09 am
Disgruntled Peony
(@disgruntledpeony)
Posts: 1283
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Posted by: @morgan-broadhead

I'm not one of those writers blessed with an abundance of terrific ideas to write about. I just finished reading a post by Tobias Buckell over on John Scalzi's Whatever page ( https://whatever.scalzi.com/2021/11/10/the-big-idea-tobias-s-buckell-2/). Tobias says he always felt like he was taking sips from an idea firehose. I've never felt that way. I've always been that parched guy in the desert wringing the last precious drops from a dried-out water pouch.

I suspect this is the largest factor for why it takes me so long to write a story. Half my time is spent just thinking of something to write. That inner critic doesn't help any either. He sits in the back of my head, legs crossed in his chair by the fire, picking lint off his pressed pants and looking down his nose at me. "That's already been done a million times," he says, yawning. "No one will want to read that."

Somewhere I read something that suggested my problem isn't a lack of ideas, but that I simply have TOO MANY ideas already, like dollar bills whirling around inside one of those vortex tubes. Some people just have a hard time snagging out a single idea among all those moving options to write about.

Either way, it's terribly frustrating. Has anyone come across any resources they can share to help those of us who struggle coming up with good ideas to write about? And by "good", I mean ideas that are unique and exciting enough to make us want to spend a few weeks writing and shaping them into a compelling story.

Thanks!

First thing's first--try not to stress about whether your ideas are original or not, especially in the brainstorming phase. I recommend walling your inner critic up just like in the Cask of Amontillado. Why? Because truly original ideas are so rare as to be nonexistent in this day and age. The thing that brings originality to the story is you--your unique perspective, which comes from your combination of experiences, personal beliefs, and story/character preferences. Ideas are a dime a dozen. You're the only person in the world exactly like you.

That said, I do have a few methods to help me generate ideas and/or keep hold of the ideas I have:

  • Listening to music can prove inspiring--some songs just place a story or a character in my head that won't leave me alone. I used to have a massive playlist of music that I found inspirational, and I'd put it on shuffle when I wrote.
  • Reading helps--not just fiction, but nonfiction. There are a lot of fascinating things to learn in this world, and fresh knowledge is a great way to open my mind to new potential plotlines or character dynamics. History, psychology, and sociology are all great places to start--as are magazines that discuss things like scientific advancement, etcetera.
  • There's nothing wrong with mining older ideas to build new ones. Some of my best stories have come from taking multiple different ideas and mashing them together into something new and interesting. (While I can't give details yet, that's definitely what happened with my winning WotF entry--I mashed multiple different ideas and inspirations together into something that was better than the sum of its individual parts.)
  • When it comes to retaining ideas, I have a Google Docs file I've affectionately labeled Word Doodles. That's where I dump stray writing-related thoughts, lines of prose, fun title options, and half-baked ideas I want to save for later. It also contains a list of random topics I'd like to research more thoroughly in the future. I don't honestly think to reference the document very often unless I'm adding to it, but that might be the ADHD more than anything else--and there's a lot of fun stuff in there, when I do remember to take advantage. It's kind of like carrying around a digital notebook to jot down ideas in, because I have easy access to Google Docs both on my phone and my computer.

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Posted : November 10, 2021 8:48 am
Joel C. Scoberg, AlexH, David Hankins and 1 people reacted
storysinger
(@storysinger)
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For me I keep notepads all over the house. When I get an idea I write it down immediately before it can get away.

I've even been known to get up at night to record the thought that made me restless. If the idea I'm trying to flesh out bogs down, or refuses to proceed in an orderly manner, I move to another.

This month is devoted to nanowrimo, and I am loving the process. 1,667 words a day will get me to the finish line. So far it is attainable.

I always submit close to the end of each quarter and it looks like Q4 will be no different. What's cool for me is I have a story in full flight that is nesting, waiting to spread it's wing's and fly.

Today's science fiction is tomorrow's reality-D.R.Sweeney
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Posted : November 10, 2021 12:56 pm
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czing
(@czing)
Posts: 272
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I am a words person not a visual person so a lot of my ideas come from odd words in something I'm reading. Something I've experimented with and had varying success is just taking three random prompt words - there are even generators out there for this. 

On the surface it kind of feels silly - but I actually think it is less that I get a brand new idea from those three random words - than it triggers some subconscious bringing together of concepts already percolating.

v36 Q1, Q3 - HM; Q4 - R
v37 Q1 - R; Q2 - SHM; Q4 - HM
v38 Q1 - HM; Q2 - SHM; Q3 - HM; Q4 - HM
v39 Q1 - SHM; Q3 - Pending

 
Posted : November 10, 2021 11:02 pm
David Hankins
(@lost_bard)
Posts: 413
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My ideas come from all over the place, so I have a series of digital notepads to capture them (on my phone, Google docs, office computer).

I’ve been inspired by music, usually when I really pay attention to the lyrics. Something about the poetry overlaid with harmony worms it’s way past my cynical forebrain.

I have had the occasional vivid dream that became a story, though more often just a seed or an element of a story comes from those because dreams can be, well, weird. I attribute these ideas to properly filling my subconscious with good stories the day before. 

I have had some success with prompts, though not a lot. Those often just remind me of an idea I jotted down before. Otherwise I have to push through the idea generation process. Nothing wrong with that, I’ve had some great stories pop up that way, it’s just more work. 

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Posted : November 11, 2021 1:45 am
Wulf Moon
(@wulfmoon)
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@lost_bard Thanks for sharing. We all have different ways ideas come to us, and it’s good to write them down and work with them when they excite us. But you’ll also find as time goes on that stories can come through the writing process itself, with very little to stir our imaginations. The 24-hour story in the WotF workshop is proof of that. Tim Powers hands writers fairly meaningless items, and in 24 hours good stories have been created. Many have even been published later in professional markets! The mind can do amazing things when you unleash it. I will note that you yourself wrote a pretty cool vignette from a prompt in one of my writing workshops in just a few hours. 😊

 

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Posted : November 13, 2021 10:32 pm
AlexH
(@alexh)
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My ideas also come from all over the place. I tend to be open-minded to (almost) anything and read points of view I disagree with, so I don't know if that helps, although I don't think that has come across in many stories so far.

Sometimes I think just a simple twist or two on a cliché can make the difference, and I like this post from one of our fellow forum members from a couple of days ago: https://christopherhenckel.wixsite.com/my-site/post/lame-writing-prompts-a-foolproof-method-for-giving-your-story-meat

35: - R R R | 36: R HM R R | 37: HM HM HM SHM | 38: HM HM HM HM | 39: HM HM HM SHM

 
Posted : November 14, 2021 2:42 am
David Hankins
(@lost_bard)
Posts: 413
Gold Member
 
Posted by: @wulfmoon

@lost_bard Thanks for sharing. We all have different ways ideas come to us, and it’s good to write them down and work with them when they excite us. But you’ll also find as time goes on that stories can come through the writing process itself, with very little to stir our imaginations. The 24-hour story in the WotF workshop is proof of that. Tim Powers hands writers fairly meaningless items, and in 24 hours good stories have been created. Many have even been published later in professional markets! The mind can do amazing things when you unleash it. I will note that you yourself wrote a pretty cool vignette from a prompt in one of my writing workshops in just a few hours. 😊

 

Very true. Being about to knuckle down and focus on writing like we did during the KYD seminar made a world of difference and produced a great story. On the rare occasions that I get a solid 4-5 hours to sit and write uninterrupted, I get some of my best work.

Winner, Volume 39, 2nd Quarter, 3rd Place
Subscribe to The Lost Bard's Letter at www.davidhankins.com
Published Stories:
"A Properly Spiced Gingerbread" - Critters Best Magical Realism Story of 2022
"The Last Quest of Corbin the Coward"
"Reassessed Value" - Tangent Online 2022 Recommended Reading List
”Hell’s Bureaucracy”
Coming Soon:
"Felix and the Flamingo" in Murderbirds!
"Another Day on the Orbital Ranch" in DreamForge Magazine

 
Posted : November 14, 2021 11:22 am
Wulf Moon reacted
David Hankins
(@lost_bard)
Posts: 413
Gold Member
 

@alexh

Thanks for sharing Henkel’s post about prompts. I really like his perspective on prompts that don’t work for you. Gonna have to try that on my next one. 

Winner, Volume 39, 2nd Quarter, 3rd Place
Subscribe to The Lost Bard's Letter at www.davidhankins.com
Published Stories:
"A Properly Spiced Gingerbread" - Critters Best Magical Realism Story of 2022
"The Last Quest of Corbin the Coward"
"Reassessed Value" - Tangent Online 2022 Recommended Reading List
”Hell’s Bureaucracy”
Coming Soon:
"Felix and the Flamingo" in Murderbirds!
"Another Day on the Orbital Ranch" in DreamForge Magazine

 
Posted : November 14, 2021 12:11 pm
AliciaCay and Wulf Moon reacted
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