If you read any blogs about writing, or follow any writers on Twitter, then you’ll probably notice a lot of writers complain about having too many ideas.
Too many ideas?!
It’s hardly a complaint designed to engender sympathy, if you’re one of those writers who doesn’t feel they have enough. Well I firmly believe a productive writer will sit somewhere between the two – able to generate ideas, but possessed of the ability to know which to pursue, and which to discard.
But how do you reach that stage?
Not Having Enough Ideas
There are two main reasons why you might feel you don’t have enough ideas: the first being a worry about plagiarism, the second being an inability to recognise an idea when you have one. Let’s look at them individually and see how to possibly fix them.
Worrying About Plagiarism
It’s easy to think that you don’t have enough ideas for fiction, especially if you examine every idea that you have and realise you’ve seen it done before elsewhere. If this is you – stop. Don’t discard an idea just because it’s similar to an idea already in the public domain. Look at your idea – how can you tell your story differently?
Many stories rely on the idea of not knowing what you truly have until it’s gone (Back to the Future II, It’s A Wonderful Life, Shrek Forever After) but they’re all different in execution. So your solution is to work on your ideas when you have them, hammer them into a shape unique to you, and you’ll soon find you have more ideas than you thought.
Recognise Your Ideas
If you feel that you’re finding trouble generating ideas, then stop to consider how much material you have in your life around you. If you work every waking hour, never read a book or watch a film, and have no time for newspapers or even watching the news, then how do you expect your brain to have fresh material to twist into the spark of an idea?
Buy a book of writing prompts. Read a few pages of a novel. Watch a short film on Youtube. Use the random article finder on Wikipedia and read about something new. Jolting your brain out of its routine will get the creative gears going again and you might find you start getting new ideas at random times as your mind fuses the new influx of data with what it already knows.
Having Too Many Ideas
Obviously, if you have too many ideas, then either of the former scenarios might seem like paradise to you.Having too many ideas is like receiving hundreds of designs from a logo design contest and having to choose 1, it becomes a tedious task weeding the good from the bad. It’s impossible for a writer to pursue every single idea that they have, and while that might send you into a panicked flutter in which you worry that you don’t have enough time to write them all, I need you to sit down and recognise the basic truth that not all of your ideas are even worth exploring.
There, I said it. Now, what are you going to do about it?
Choose Your Focus
First of all, you need to decide which of your zillions of ideas to focus on. Write them all out, and add a couple of explanatory sentences. If you’ve already got a rough outline in mind, then by all means write that down as well. Now you have a record that you can refer to whenever you want.
See? No idea has been lost. Now, I want you to put it aside and go about your business for a day or two without writing. Which ideas stick with you? Which can’t you stop thinking about? Those are the ideas you should pursue.
Combine And Conquer!
Write your list of ideas, but this time, consider complementary themes or plotlines. How many of your ideas are similar? Can you combine them? Perhaps one of your ideas isn’t strong enough to carry a story on its own, but it’s perfect as an intriguing side-plot when woven into one of your other ideas. Combining ideas, or parts of ideas, is one way of using the best parts of everything you come up with, while satisfying the need to pursue them all.
Strike A Happy Balance
By now you must have guessed what I was driving at – to be productive, to continue to write and to be able to keep your list topped up with new ideas, you need to find a happy balance between both approaches. On a periodic basis, you might want to follow the idea generating exercise, perhaps spicing it up by adding people-watching or swapping prompts with friends, and then use the filtering methods in order to decide which ones you want to pursue. Plus, if you keep adding to your list every time you have an idea, you’ll never run out…
How about you? What approaches do you take when it comes to generating, or filtering, your ideas?