Sometimes the hardest part of writing is finding a good idea of what to write about. Finding your idea is one part awareness and one part disconnecting from the mundane. You don’t have to wait for your muse. Brainstorming can help you find your idea and get started with your next writing project.
This is part 1 of a 6-part blog series based on writing workshops called Chasing Your Tale: Building Your Writer’s Toolkit offered through the SheHive. “The SheHive exists to facilitate connection and growth for women seeking to live a life on the other side of should.” You can find out more about the workshop and sign up to attend here.
Not Every Story is a Novel
Writers come in all shapes and sizes, and so do their stories. You don’t have to be committed to a full-length, 100,000-word fiction novel as your first attempt at writing. Narrative writing happens in every genre – from non-fiction personal narratives to realistic or “literary” fiction, and fantasy to folklore. And you can get published with as little as 500 – 1,000 words. Whether you write a short story or a full-length novel, tools like Writers’ Market (which you can borrow from your local library) can help you find periodicals and publishing companies where you can submit your work.
Finding Your Idea: Brainstorming
Many would-be writers get stuck because they “don’t know what to write about.” Others wait for their muse to strike. As Rachael Stephens explains in her video How to Brainstorm Ideas for Writing, if you want to write consistently, you need to go digging in your subconscious for ideas, rather than waiting for them to bubble to the surface. She has several suggestions for ways to brainstorm, but here are two:
The 5 Ideas Method
Ask yourself the same question 5 times and write down the answer. The question itself can be:
- About the world around you (What is the most interesting reason that woman is nervous?)
- From your imagination (What is the most exciting reasons birds wouldn’t exist on a tropical planet?)
- Based on your own history (What was my favorite Christmas break?)
Why ask the question 5 times? Because our brains are conditioned to look for the most likely answer first. Why is that bush making noise? It could be an angry tiger, but it’s probably the neighbor’s dog. As writers, we’re out to explore the unlikely. What if it actually were a tiger? Why would there be an angry tiger next door? To do that, we need to get the logical explanations of the neighbor’s dog out of the way to make room for the tiger.
The way you ask the question is also important. Those adjectives – most interesting, exciting, or favorite – also give your mind permission to skip over the mundane and come up with unusual, surreal, or thought-provoking answers to the question of the day. If you are still unhappy with your answers after 5, keep going! Sometimes the germ of a story idea will be the 7th or even 17th answer to your question.
Once you have that central idea, it’s time to expand on it. Mind-mapping is a great brainstorming tool to help you develop a central theme. When it comes to planning your story, you can prime the pump of your mind map by starting with the 5 Ws and an H:
- Who (character)
- What (theme)
- Where & When (setting)
- Why (motivation)
- How (plot)
Let your mind play with those ideas, writing down whatever comes to mind. If you are a visual person, add images or even story-board your ideas. If you prefer to work digitally, you can find free mind-mapping tools that let you work online, or find software that interfaces with your writing platform (like Scapple works with Scrivener).
The biggest mistake would-be writers make is failing to start. If you wait for the next big idea to strike, you may not be paying attention when it comes along. By actively brainstorming using the 5 Ideas Method, mind-mapping, or some other tool, you can move past idea paralysis, and find your next good idea.
Lisa J. Schmidt is a writer, owner of Your Law Geek, and facilitator of Chasing Your Tale: Building Your Writer’s Toolkit hosted by the SheHive in Ferndale, Michigan. If you need help developing your next idea, sign up for her next workshop or contact Lisa directly here.