How to Get Ideas for Stories

Here’s the lesson about reading: read inside your genre to perfect your style, outside of it for new ideas.

I told my wife a while back that I had finally hit the turning point in my second novel, Fracture, coming out at the end of this month. My first novel starts out with a whip-crack (the lead character falling out of an 8th floor window) and only slows down to take a breath in a few places. With Fracture, I wanted to work on a slower build that gradually increased in tempo like a lit fuse nearing the first stick of dynamite in a chain of explosions.

When I explained this to my wife, she said, “I wouldn’t know where to begin writing a novel.”
“It all starts with an idea,” I said, “usually a ‘what-if?’.”

That’s why de-cluttering your space, schedule, and mind is so important to an author. When you’re stuck in routines or harried by to-do lists, your mind doesn’t have time to wander.

  • You need time to read. Books are great. They shape your perception and your style as an author. Books aren’t the only places where authors get ideas, though. Pick up magazines, news articles, slip through an encyclopedia or a national geographic. Here’s the lesson about reading: read inside your genre to perfect your style, outside of it for new ideas. So if you’re looking for something fresh, get outside your genre for that brilliant “what-if?” that sets your pants on fire.
  • You need time to wander too. Set aside 30 minutes to go for a walk at the end of the day. Go alone if you can or with a friend who likes to talk about things outside of conventional conversation. Maybe just sitting on the same bench in the same park is what you need. Whatever it is, clear your mind of all the tasks you have to do and give yourself time to dream on whatever takes your interest.
  • People-watch. There is no better place to find drama than laundro-mats and all-night diners. Go places where people talk loudly. Bring a pen and paper or your phone and a note-taking app. Capture moments of dialogue that hook your attention, life’s ironic twists, physical descriptions and tics, and the multiple facets of the human psyche.

These are just a few ideas to get you going. How about you, though? How do you find your stories?

Busting Writer’s Block

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There are plenty of tips to breaking up writer’s block. They are all good, but here’s my favorite. It’s my favorite because it makes me feel in control of the act of writing, lets me stop feeling satisfied and start with plenty of new ideas to bring to the page. You ready for it? Okay, here it is. Real simple: don’t finish.

When we’re writing–especially when we’ve struck a vein and the words are gushing–there is this drive to get it all out before that vein dries up. Number one, that mentality is a problem. By thinking you’ve got a limited supply of ideas and they only really come in spurts of inspiration, you lock yourself into a mindset of inspirational poverty. That’s not the case. The words are always in you. It’s just about your mind making connections between concepts. When you put a full stop on an idea with a period, you sever those connections. If, however, you stop writing in the middle of a sentence, you keep that connection open. What’s more, using the analogy of the vein, you let those words keep flowing when you walk away from the computer and soon you’ll be swimming in them. Your subconscious will keep making connections, and bursts of insight will hit you while you’re pulling the milk out of the fridge, the car out of the garage, or your head out of your ass after a fight with your spouse.

Number two, if you know how a sentence, or a scene is going to end, then you come back into the act of writing with at least half a tank of fuel to get you going. Writing out a full chapter till you can’t think of what comes next leaves you dry, with little motivation to sit back down and start, since you don’t have that enough juice to get things moving.

So, how do we put this into practice? Easy. If your goal is to write a chapter a day, write a chapter and a half, or just three-fourths of that chapter. I don’t typically stop conversations if they are really crackling, or a description that I have just the right words for. I do, however, stop right smack in the middle of a sentence if the point of the sentence is the character performing an action or moving from one place to another. I know where it’s going and it’s not critical to say it just right (not yet at least). To get into this practice, all you have to do is call off the voice of that asshole overlord in your head that tells you to finish the sentence and stop right in the-

How’s that? You’ve got that urge to finish the sentence, don’t you? Good. That’s what I’m talking about. Now try it out for yourself. But before you go, why not share some of your own ideas on busting writer’s block?