Write what you know, isn’t that what everyone tells you? Well, that’s not a bad idea, but sometimes when you don’t have an idea, you just don’t have an idea. That’s when you need to do a little fishing – figurative or literal, both will work.
It’s been a long time since I haven’t had an idea of what to write about. I keep a log – a long list – or ideas at my fingertips just in case I happen to finish my current working drafts. Some days it seems like that will never happen. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t need to look for ideas. In fact, I feel that writers should be constantly on the lookout for ideas whether you have none at all, or pages upon pages of ideas waiting to be written. After all, you never want to have nothing.
So, rule number one of writing – yes, there are a lot of rule number ones – make sure you are writing down all ideas as they come to you. Ideas are like spitting phlegm down a drain when you’re sick. The phlegm will stick to the sink bowl, slowly linger its way to the drain where it will inevitably become stuck or hang out awhile, but when it goes, it goes and you likely won’t think about it again.
That being said, where can you find ideas when you can’t seem to find them? Here are a few of my tricks.
Right in front of you
In my twenties I often found myself eager to write with nothing to write about. So, like the names of my characters, I just looked around my desk, kitchen, living room, coffee shop or anywhere else I was writing. I was looking for that one little object to start me off. One example would be a coffee cup that someone left on its side on a table in a coffee shop. I couldn’t figure out why someone would be in such a rush that they left a cup, not just not thrown in the garbage, but also laying on its side dribbling now-cold coffee onto the table. That’s where my thoughts went. A young woman listening to the nearby church bells realizes she is late for something and dashes off, her purse knocking over the cup and the barista so upset about it she just leaves the cup on the table. Bam! Item around me = story.
Right now I look at my desk and see three (yes, three) braces, one ankle and two wrist. I also see a ball cap, a St. Louis Cardinals coffee cup, and a notebook. Perhaps, this is the story about a once-great athlete whose body – and his heart – are torn apart that he is retiring in a few hours and he is writing his retirement speech.
I look outside and I see a storm shelter, a tree house, and two dogs sprinting around the yard. I now think about a newly fostered dog going through an emergency training school. Maybe the dog ends up saving his previous owner who he became separated from during a hurricane 300 miles away.
The world around you is sharing its secrets and trying to help out, you just need to be able to see. From a pencil rolling off a table to a hole in your yard’s fence there is a story within sight.
I metal detect. It’s kind of my meditation. Years ago a friend of mine and I would choose three things we found on a detecting adventure and turn those three things into a story. For example, one time I found an 1843 Large cent, a shovel head, and an ax head. I’m sure you can figure out where that story went. Even more recently I found an old smokehouse lock, a chisel, and an ax head. Again, I’m sure you can find something great and nefarious to write with those items.
The game, my game, was a way for me to combine two things I enjoy doing and turning them into a story. While this is my game, I have talked to other writers who have developed their own games to come up with ideas. For example, one writer I knew would make up their own constellation in the sky when they were stargazing at night and they would come up with an “ancient” tale for that constellation. Another writer who played baseball would look into the crowd, eye someone, and write a story about that person going home after the ballgame.
Making a writing game out of things you love to do can provide an everlasting list of ideas.
Ask yourself three questions
What will I do?
When will I do it?
Those three questions looked at from any angle such as relationships, science, philosophy, or even just watching television can provide you with enough writing to last a lifetime. Whether you ask yourself those questions for fun and silliness, or those questions are meant to answer a bigger question you’ve been pondering about life answering them directly or in a story can move your ideas forward along with your writing.
Finding an idea to write is not as difficult as many think it might be. Ideas are everywhere, and like shoes, sometimes you need to try a few on before you find one that fits just right. These exercises are simple and my goal isn’t to be profound here. My goal is to show you that by simplifying your search and keeping your eyes open, stories abound.