Are You An Idea Generating Machine?

Idea-funny-electricity-124522-lAre you an idea generating machine? Ha! Me either.  But if you're a writer, you better be.  I don't think I am by nature.  But I have trained myself to be better at it–and you can too.

Generating ideas is on my mind because  I'm writing synopses for my next two books.  (And by the way, yes I did deliver the rewrite on Friday!) I have the basic idea for each of them, but there's a lot to figure out in a novel.

(Let me pause right here and admit that I'm a plotter, not a pantser.  I like to have at least a loose idea of where the story is going.  This is serving me in good stead now that I'm writing synopses.)

But this whole thing of figuring out the plot of the novel–to say nothing of the characters and setting–can be a bit overwhelming.  Contrary to the belief of non-writers, one does not just sit down and write out a plot that will work.  

So what does one do?  I have learned to come at it from a lot of different angles.  I have to, because that's how ideas form for me.  So maybe some of these angles will be helpful for you.

1.  Write about it. I know. Duh. But I think sometimes we tend to sit at our desks and stare at the monitor–or out the window, hoping the words will form themselves.  Ha!  A nice free writing session can be infinitely helpful in figuring stuff out.  You can use prompts or just plunge in and write.

2.  Make lists.  this has been very helpful to me.  Some current examples: "What I know about _____ novel."  "What I don't know about ________ novel."  Do the same thing for characters, and setting.  Once, long ago, I wrote a mystery (not a great idea, as I don't generally read a lot of mysteries).  One of my lists was "Burning Questions to Answer."  And there's always the tried and true, "What if?"

3.  Walk.  I've been walking around the house lately.  I'm healing my hips from some issues and if I go for too long outside, I get pain.  So I'm getting my steps in by walking in short spurts around the house.  And this is very helpful for ideas.  The more I pace, the more ideas I get.  Makes the idea of getting up off my butt much more palatable.

4.  Take a shower.  The idea for my novel The Bonne Chance Bakery came to me, nearly fully formed, in the shower.  And I have smaller ideas all the time when standing under the water.  We just got a new water heater (not by choice, the old one sprang a leak) and so now I have more hot water than I've ever dreamed of.  Best thing ever!  And, I can tell my husband I have to take long hot showers to get ideas.  I haven't actually tried that yet.  Not sure he'll believe me.

5.  Remember that every story comes to you differently.  As mentioned above, I've had the lovely experience with both Emma Jean and the Bonne Chance that they came to me in nearly whole cloth form.  So now I fight the expectation that this will always happen.  Conversely, I have to remind myself that's its okay if the idea doesn't download itself that way.  It will still be a good novel.  (And in truth, I still had to do quite a bit of idea gathering to complete the ones that came to me all at once.  But do I remember that? Of course not.)

6.  Research.  This can spark so many ideas.  But don't get bogged down in it, which is very easy to do.

7.  Journal.  Or do morning pages.  When I'm in the middle of figuring out a novel, I wake up and go right to the journal to do morning pages.  (Okay, I do stop to get coffee and water.)  I start writing about any old thing, but most days, my words morph into thoughts on the current novel.  And there I am, figuring things out and creating ideas!

So that's what I'm up to at the moment.  How do you find your ideas?  Leave a comment!

**Don't forget that I'm teaching a workshop in Nashville this spring!  You can find all the details here.

Photo by ubik2010.

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8 Comments on "Are You An Idea Generating Machine?"

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J.D.
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J.D.

Take a shower? After all these years, am I back to that? Holy cow.

Angie Dixon
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Great post. I’m actually writing a book called 10 Impossible Ideas Before Breakfast, with a subtitle of becoming an idea factory. Everywhere I turn, these past few weeks, I see someone else interested in ideas. Very cool.

Don Williams
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Don Williams

I love this post, great tips. I especially like the walking one as I love to walk. Often I would walk from one side of the east side to the other, a distances of 52km, and in those six hours I would get many idea inspirations… some good, some not so good.

All in all, another great post. What would we do without you Charlotte?

Charlotte Dixon
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Yes. It will get you clean, too.

Charlotte Dixon
Guest

I want that book! It sounds awesome! When will it be finished?

Charlotte Dixon
Guest

Aw, thanks, Don. I appreciate you so much! And that is quite a lot of walking!

Christi Corbett
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I get my best ideas when I’m driving. Never fails, a few miles in and I’ve got ideas zooming through my mind!

Christi Corbett

Charlotte Dixon
Guest

Ooh, that’s a good one. I don’t associate driving with getting ideas, but I have noticed over the last couple of years that I prefer silence when I drive now (used to always listen to the radio or a CD). And your comment made me realize that this gives me time to think–and sprout ideas. Come to think of it, I do remember driving home from my son’s house across town one day last year and coming up with the solution to a huge problem for my novel. I’m going to start paying more attention, thanks!

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