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Learn to sustain your creative drive with your own, home-brewed story fuel!
Listen or download the audio for this section here!
All writers, beginner or experienced, need momentum to keep them writing – and sometimes, that momentum is hard to find. Generating ideas harnesses your passion for writing into a clear direction by building your creative vision.
“The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.”
– Nobel prize-winning chemist and pacifist, Linus Pauling
In this section, you will learn prompts and tools to create a vibrant, free-flowing connection from your imagination to the page or keyboard. Nourish your writing practice and silence your inner critic by using a range of approaches that get your creativity flowing.
Through a combination of research, observation, and writing technique, this section transforms your approach to writing so that from here on, you will enjoy the regular and satisfying expression of your story ideas.
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Topic 1: Aha! Finding a writing idea
Where do your ideas come from?
This is one of the most common questions asked of published writers. So we’ll let you in on a big secret – writers get most of their ideas from writing itself!
‘Let’s agree on something right from the start: The ideas you seek, the ones that you’ll use to write beautiful work, are already inside you. They are in your memory and your subconscious.’
– Mike Heffron, p. 17, The Writer’s Idea Workshop, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio
Our Fundamentals of Creative Writing course leads you through a range of stimulating exercises to help you identify the most effective prompts that get your ideas flowing and keep them flowing, so let’s have a taste of them now…
Whatever you write, your inspiration is rooted in your life, in what you have observed, felt or imagined. To generate ideas you need to utilise the objects you have collected, pictures you have seen – you need to mine your life for ideas that will catch your creative imagination.
Idea-generating activities are designed around finding things that catch your attention, whether they make sense to anyone else or not. Have faith in your creative instincts, and give your own small, daily Aha! moments their full weight.
To generate ideas then, you need to become a collector of inspirational objects, images or words.
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Topic 2: From Inspiration to Expression
- COLLECTION: Ideas are all around you. As an aspiring writer, you have probably noticed the way your mind is always noticing little details throughout your day. You may catch yourself daydreaming, playing with different scenarios or combinations of words and phrases. That’s great!
Focus all that creative energy by keeping a record of whatever inspires you. Start an archive box or a scrapbook. Look for words, images, captions, headlines, objects. Some people cut out pictures from magazines or articles from the newspaper and collect them in a notebook. Find a way to keep these inspirational visual aids in the one place so you have writing prompts on demand. That way, you will always have a treasure trove of ready ideas when you sit down to write.
- FREE WRITING: Once you have a few images, objects, sounds, words etc. that inspire you, start free writing. Place a couple of the images and/or phrases next to each other, relax your thoughts, and let the words flow onto the page. In free writing, the goal is to write without over-thinking it and second-guessing yourself. This opens up the connection between your imagination and your pen/keyboard, and enables you to generate lots of ideas in a short time. Set a timer – even just 5 or 10 minutes will work wonders to unlock your creativity and strengthen your writing muscles.
You may observe your free writing looping out from one topic, asking questions, or repeating words or fragments. Keep following your stream of consciousness to see what ideas emerge. Sometimes your free writing will focus on feeling bored or awkward, but stick with it. Don’t worry – your clever subconscious will use lots of excellent strategies to explore and unearth your ideas. Just keep writing until the timer lets you know you have completed your session.
You will find that, beginning with any prompt or starting point, free writing will open up your imagination to a field of ideas that eventually becomes a focus of interest or a deeper theme.
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Topic 3: Organising Your Ideas
Many writers fear “writer’s block”. The pressure of facing a blank page can scupper the confidence of a beginner writer. But now you never have to face the tyranny of a blank page again, because you will always have ideas at hand.
Keep a small notebook with you or start a folder of computer files where you jot down notes of anything that strikes you or grabs your imagination. Observations, phrases and other prompts you notice or overhear are all golden moments of inspiration. They are not only great fuel for story ideas, but also provide the type of specific details that make your writing really leap from the page.
To begin, concentrate on where you are right now, reading this: is your seat cold, warm, hard, soft? What can you hear – nature or city sounds, overheard snippets of conversations? What do you see? What aromas surround you – spice, garbage, rain?
The Exploring Narrative course will build on this process, taking you through exercises to sharpen all 5 of your writing senses so you can write immersive, engaging scenes that your readers lose themselves in.
Do the exercise below to put your knowledge about Generating Ideas into practice!
A full list of other sentences created and shared by your fellow students can be found at the bottom of this page. Read the sentences shared by your fellow students, and leave an encouraging comment about an aspect of their writing, or how it affected you.
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To help you keep going with your writing, here is a take home exercise you can do anytime – it’s lots of fun, only takes 5 minutes, and will give you some new story ideas every time.
- Find an inspiring image or images
- Record a snippet of overheard conversation and a sensation (touch, sight, smell, etc.)
- Using those prompts, free write for 5 minutes
When finished, reward yourself – call a supportive friend and let them know you completed a creative writing goal, or have a luscious bubble bath, or go for a run.
Whatever it is, do something you enjoy to acknowledge your success in generating ideas to fuel your creative vision!
In this section, you have learned how your natural inclination to notice details around you is actually your creative instincts at work. You have practised tapping into these by using the stream of consciousness method of free writing. You have used these building blocks to generate and express your ideas with thoughtful word choices and relatable emotions to invite and immerse your readers into your stories.
To keep your ideas flowing, consider these insights used by experienced authors:
3 Top Tips for Generating Your Ideas
- Find a notebook and pen that you love – ideally, it sits comfortably in your hand and is easy to carry around with you at all times. This notebook is not for messages or shopping lists – it is special: it is your creative writing journal. Make sure you use it at least once every day – even if it is just when you are on the bus, or in front of the TV, or taking a lunch break – and record snippets of your surroundings, or do some free writing.
- Start a folder on your computer called “Creative Writing”. Within that, create a folder called “Inspiration”, and give yourself permission to open it and add to it whenever you can – you can start just by transcribing and tweaking passages from your notebook, then build from there once you gain confidence and momentum.
- If you have specific story ideas in mind, include a folder for each story idea – that way, you can save and organise the fruits of your free writing or observations, and easily find them once you are ready to concentrate on developing that particular story idea.
Congratulations on finishing this section on Generating Ideas!
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