This past week I decided to start a new project. I’ve had  a few brewing around in my head for awhile, but I felt like I should finish revising another project first. But I didn’t feel like revising anything.

(That’s a whole other story about no more “shoulding on myself”)

Sooo…what happened? I haven’t been writing at all because I’ve been avoiding the project I thought I should be doing.

Ever feel like that? Like you should be working on one project, but your heart wants you to work on another, so you don’t work on anything at all?

Uh, yeah. Me too.

So last week put my revision project away (far out of sight) and spent several happy hours brainstorming ideas, jotting notes and asking questions for a new novel idea. I LOVE coming up with ideas, characters, and potential plot twists.

I honestly still have no idea who will populate this next story or even what they’re going to do for sure, but that’s okay. I’m having a blast coming up with all sorts of random story ideas.

For the next few weeks, I thought I’d share my favorite brainstorming strategies I use when starting a new project.

Sometimes, we have ideas bursting out of us, so many that there’s no way we can write them all.

Other times, we have a great idea but aren’t sure how to develop it.

And, there are those times we have no ideas at all.

These four tips can help solve all of these #NovelIdeaProbs.

The first two tips are rules you must abide by to get to your very best ideas. They are (drumroll) “Idea Rules.”

Idea Rule #1 – Forget your audience and create for yourself

If you are constantly thinking about what others will think of your stories, you won’t write your best stuff because you’ll hold yourself back which you don’t want to do. You want to let your most creative self out. Entertain yourself and forget your audience or what others might think.

Idea Rule #2 – Banish the bad guy in your head – that inner critic

This one goes hand in hand with #1. We all have an inner critic that is super helpful in trying to tell us how completely lame we are, that everything we write sucks.

It doesn’t.

So, ignore that voice, or even better, send that voice to Siberia every time you sit down to write. If he or she rears their ugly mug, throw a bag over their head and stuff them back into the hole they crawled out of, or if that is too depressing, shower them with rainbows and flowers and turn that bad guy into your biggest fan.

You don’t need them or want them in your life.

Did you do it? Did you banish your potential audience and your worst critic? Good.

Let’s get started with brainstorming strategies.

Got your notebook? You’ll need it.

Strategy #3 – What if?

The first strategy is called “What if?” and it’s a great plot generator idea. For this one, you start with an idea and then continually ask “what if?” Little kids are great at this and often drive their parents crazy asking “what if?” and “why?”

You probably did too, but at some point, you lost that annoying habit. Your job today is to get it back.

To start, think of the mundane activities you do everyday. Perhaps you get the mail, go to school, drive somewhere, or pour yourself some coffee or tea.

Choose one and then, start with the what if’s?

For example, what if when I got the mail, there was a handwritten letter from someone. What if it was from my aunt/grandpa/uncle? What if my grandpa has been in a home with severe Alzheimer’s for the past three years, and he can’t even write anymore? What if he really doesn’t have Alzheimer’s but has been faking it? What if he has a secret and now he needs my help? What if the secret is that in sixties, during the Vietnam war, he actually….

You get the idea. Just keep going. Remember the biggest goal here is to banish your inner critic and come up with whatever craziness you can. Somewhere in there, you just might find the kernel of a great story. Repeat this several times and see what you can come up with.

Strategy #4 – Current Events “What if’s?”

This strategy is how I came up with the premise for my first NaNoRiMo novel.

For it, you need a newspaper or access to a news site like cnn.com or google news. Or you could go for something a little happier like the Good News Network.

Then, set up a special page, maybe the back page, of your notebook for story ideas that you stumble across. Jot them down or even cut out or print the articles and paste them into your notebook.

Once you’ve found an idea that intrigues you, develop it using the “What if?” technique.

For example, in my idea notebook, I have an article that describes a pair of lightning strikes in Colorado that killed two people and injured a few more. For this one, I’ve got a plot idea, but I need to add a character. I also have an interesting article about foster children, so let’s combine them.

Suppose a foster child is camping with her new family when lightning strikes their camp, killing the parents and their oldest son. What if the foster kid is left with a scared eight year old? What if the lightning also starts a forest fire that cuts them off from their escape? What if to escape, they have to raft a river, but they have no idea where they’ll end up? What if there’s a small waterfall? What if…

You get the idea. Go grab a newspaper and try it. Find the weirdest or even least weirdest articles.

Remix ’em and see what you come up with.

Check out this Shel Silverstein poem as it goes right along with the theme for today, “What if.”  And (as a bonus) it’ll  might make you smile – always a good thing.

Did you try either of these strategies? What did you come up with? Share your ideas in the comments below. We’d love to hear them.