The topic of ideas can bring up quite some heated debates in a writing group. It seems people always have either too many ideas or too little.
When we look at the routine of famous writers such as Brandon Sanderson it becomes obvious however, that having ideas isn’t simply a stroke of luck but instead a well-practiced habit. I mention Brandon Sanderson because he is a prolific writer who has spoken many times about the word document where he writes down all of his ideas.
You see, whenever you do something or think something, your brain starts to create a pathway so similar thoughts or activities happen more easily next time. So, if you have an idea once, your brain starts creating pathways, so you’ll have ideas more easily in the future.
You can think of it like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it gets. And the difference between those of us with many ideas and those of us with few ideas is how often we exercise this muscle.
So how do we practice our idea muscle effectively to create stronger paths in our brains?
Write every idea you have down
This is a very straight forward and effective way to build your idea muscles. Yet I have found many people struggle with it. Before you scoff at that, I’ll explain the two reasons people struggle with it and perhaps you identify with them.
- Fear of unoriginality
Many of us fear that our ideas are not original enough. When you look at your ideas, they might seem very similar to something out of your favorite book.
I want to encourage you, write it down anyway.
There are two reasons to write down unoriginal ideas.
The first is that most ideas are unoriginal. In fact, ideas get passed from one story to the next and even your favorite author’s work is probably finding some root in someone else’s. It’s the fact that you are a different person than your favorite author that will help make your story different from theirs.
The second reason to write it down is because even writing down unoriginal ideas will help you exercise your idea muscle, and soon you’ll be coming up with more and more original ideas.
Remember you have to start somewhere.
- The desire for the perfect idea
The other reason people struggle writing down their ideas is because some part of them think it’s not a good enough idea to be written down.
Perhaps you have always wanted to write an epic fantasy, but your idea is simply for a small-town romance. I dare you, write it down anyway.
No idea is perfect, and if you wait for the perfect idea before you start writing you’ll wait for the rest of your life.
So instead write down every imperfect idea you have, and then later piece the little ideas together until you have a halfway decent story.
There’s a bit of a secret hidden in the previous sentence, which is this, no story is just one grand idea. All stories are a bunch of little ideas pieced together.
A story doesn’t come to a writer in one chunk, instead you might get the idea for a character one day and the idea for a plot a couple weeks later. It’s your job to pick up the small imperfect ideas and then string them together.
Write down every idea you have. No matter how big or small, and this will help strengthen your idea muscle.
Turning it into a habit
We have settled that you need to write your ideas down, but how do you turn this practice into a habit?
By doing it repeatedly and on purpose.
When I was younger, I used to carry around a journal with me everywhere and I just wrote ideas down as they came to me. This helped a lot, but I don’t have the freedom of time like I used to as a teenager, and now my head is so full of other things that ideas don’t come as naturally as they did before.
My solution to this is to set aside a couple minutes in which I write down three ideas every day. Three forced ideas are like warming up my idea muscles and soon enough the ideas start flowing naturally again.
So, if you want to be the writer with too many ideas, then start putting aside time and prioritize writing down ideas. And if you’re truly stumped about where to find ideas, keep your eyes opened because I’ll be giving four places to find good ideas in the coming posts.
Much love, Enette