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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

5 Principles for Generating Ideas


When it comes to generating ideas there are basically two ways you can do it: the easy way and the hard way.  Neither one is necessarily better than the other, but the easy way will definitely save you a lot of time, stress and agony, while the hard way... well, it's just hard.

This is where the ORACLE comes in.  The ORACLE is all about making life easier for you, especially when it comes to generating ideas.  Here are a few principles that I've learned from my ORACLE that have helped make my writing life a lot easier.

•  Leave some things to chance.  Let's face it, part of what makes writing so challenging isn't that we don't have enough choices, it's that we have too many.  Sometimes having to make so many decisions can be paralyzing and limiting your options can actually be liberating.  This is when I turn to the ORACLE.  With the flip of a coin or roll of the die, I can take a decision out of my hands and put it in the hands of chance.  Today, try letting chance decide one small detail in your writing.

•  Engage the five senses.  When I'm at a loss for ideas, I go back to the basics.  I focus on the five senses, particularly senses other than sight (since that one tends to be the one I use most often).  I make a soundtrack for the story I'm working on.  I burn a candle and focus on the scent.  I eat jelly beans in weird flavors.  I go to my knitting stash and pet the yarn.  The latter is how I got the idea for one of my projects.  Try to draw on one of your lesser-used senses.

•  Embrace the unexpected.  I still remember the first time a character of mine hijacked the story from me.  I was writing a short story with an eleven-year-old boy protagonist and suddenly the kid is standing in the living room with his mom measuring him for a party dress and I realized that my character was really a girl.  I spent some time trying to rework the story, to keep with my original vision but the story only came to life the minute I let go of my own personal agenda and let the character be who she wanted to be.  Have you ever had something unexpected come up in a project?  How did you handle it?

•  Step beyond your comfort zone.  It's easy for writers to get into a routine and sometimes rituals can help us prepare for a writing session.  At the same time, though, too much routine can hinder more than help, and it's up to us to do something to shake things up.  For me, a great way to break a humdrum routine is to try an new environment.  Sometimes that means just moving to a different room in the apartment; sometimes I have to pack up my notebook and take a subway to a different part of the city.  Do one small thing this week to push you outside your comfort zone.

•  Practice, practice, practice.  One of the most important parts of DIY MFA is the actual doing of it.  We can talk about writing in the abstract forever but the writing won't do itself.  Sooner or later we have to grit our teeth and do the work and this is where practice comes in.  A friend recently recommended an app for the computer called Pomodoro.  I tried it and now I swear by it.  Seriously.  It keeps me accountable and forces me to focus for short spurts, rather than letting me sit at my desk for hours, zoning out and checking twitter.  What kinds of techniques can you use to help get you in the zone?

How you can apply these five principles to your writing this week?

8 comments:

salarsenッ said...

Great post. I think #1 is something I tend to shy away from. I'll give that a try, today. Thanks!

Gwen Hernandez said...

Thanks for the Pomodoro recommendation. I used to use Tea Timer, but it stopped working on me. Great ideas here!

Orlando said...

Sounds and smells are wonderful triggers to get my imagination going. If you close your eyes and try to decipher what the sounds are and where they are coming from, you get a better feel of your surroundings. At times a smell will bring back fond memories of places I've been to, people I've known, and things I've seen. Thank you for the reminder.

Kerryn Angell said...

It is so true that you have to practice coming up with ideas. As writers I think we should always practice so that we have a whole slew of inspiration to draw from whenever we want to write something new.

One article that really opened my eyes and mind to creating more ideas was More Ideas Than You Can Write.

Wannabe Writer said...

I've got my penny out. And I already know the choice I'm going to make using it. This should be interesting.

Ghenet said...

Great tips! I really want to try out Pomodoro. I've heard great things about it.

Madeline Bartos said...

These are great points! I'm in the middle of plotting out a new project, maybe a coin or die will come in handy soon. :)

Brett said...

Embrace the unexpected: I introduced a minor character to help flavor a small "introduction" scene. She accepted my quiet entrance, grabbed the front of my shirt and demanded, "YOU WILL WRITE ABOUT ME." She became a much bigger part of the rest of the story, able to share a lot of her background and in-story accomplishments with the reader. In the end, I think she was happy with my handling of her, and that her story also got told. I certainly wouldn't want to make her angry.

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