A few weeks ago I had a student, a teen writer, ask me where I get my story ideas. She had been staring at a blank computer screen for quite some time and was feeling frustrated that she couldn’t come up with any “good” ideas.
I thought about her question for a bit before giving her an answer. The answer is simple but can be hard to put into practice.
In short, my ideas come from…everywhere.
They come from dreams, friends, stories people tell me about their lives, the news, pictures, people I see, snatches of dialogue I overhear. They come from somewhere in the dark recesses of my brain when I go running, stare at a campfire, meditate, or take a shower.
“Everywhere” is a tough answer because when someone asks, I can’t say, “Oh, it’s a super great place. Go here.” I can’t really share “everywhere” and hand students some super easy idea solution.
However, I believe, in the deepest part of my soul, that as human beings, we are all innately creative. EVERYONE is creative, even if you have moments when you are sure you don’t have a creative cell in your body.
Two keys to finding original story ideas:
#1 – Turn off your inner critic.
This is the voice that shoots down every idea that you come up with and tells you it is a stupid, lame idea. If you shut down every idea that you get, then, yes, it can be hard to come up with ideas. But if instead, you write them down, play with them (all of them), you’ll get much better at finding those ideas you want to develop further.
Turning your inner critic off also allows ideas to come into your creative brain where they can percolate and bounce around and possibly morph into something amazing. There are so many ideas out there that if you let them come in without banishing them, you’ll come up with some great stuff.
#2 – Ignore the final product
Remember that when you’re coming up with ideas, you’re not looking at the final product that will possibly launch you to the NY Times Bestseller list and make you your first million. Get the final product completely out of your head! Right now, just PLAY with all the little pieces of ideas that you have bouncing around in your brain.
For example, see how you can combine the idea you had for a character last week, with the comment your best friend said yesterday, and the terrible outfit your teacher wore to school today. The idea here is to innovate and create something new, a story that ONLY YOU can create.
The process of turning off your inner critic and playing with ALL of your ideas is all about figuring out:
- what works,
- what doesn’t work,
- what kind of story you want to tell,
- what kind of writer you are, and
- what stories you have lurking within you.
Through this process, you will find that you have more ideas then you know what to do with, and the best part is that these will be YOUR original ideas.
You don’t want to write the same thing as J.R. Tolkein or Suzanne Collins or Veronica Roth. You want to write YOUR story, so let your imagination play without censoring it to develop your ideas.