Are you in search of ideas for writing a book?
Almost every writer on the planet wants to write a book.
Some have finished a manuscript and others are already published, but many more dream, talk, and think about completing a full draft and seeing their name on a book cover.
Some already have a book in the works while others have several half-finished drafts floating around. Some can’t even get started. They have too many ideas to choose from, or they are waiting for the right idea.
You could spend your whole life waiting. Read more
Descriptive writing ideas. Do your readers see what you see?
Descriptive writing is the art of painting a picture with words.
In fiction, we describe settings and characters. In poetry, we describe scenes, experiences, and emotions. In creative nonfiction, we describe reality.
Classic literature was dense with description whereas modern literature usually keeps description to a minimum.
Compare the elaborate descriptions in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy with the descriptions in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Both series relied on description to help the readers visualize an imagined, fantastical world, but Rowling did not use her precious writing space to describe standard settings whereas Tolkien frequently paused all action and spent pages describing a single landscape.
This isn’t unique to Tolkien and Rowling; if you compare most literature from the beginning of of the 20th century and earlier to today’s work, you’ll see that we just don’t dedicate much time and space to description anymore.
I think this radical change in how we approach description is directly tied to the wide availability of film, television, and photography. Let’s say you were living in the 19th century, writing a story about a tropical island for an audience of northern, urban readers. You would be fairly certain that most of your readers had never seen such an island and had no idea what it looked like. To give your audience a full sense of your story’s setting, you’d need pages of detail describing the lush jungle, sandy beaches, and warm waters.
Nowadays, we all know what a tropical island looks like, thanks to the wide availability of media. Even if you’ve never been to such an island, surely you’ve seen one on TV.
Descriptive Writing in the 21st Century
This might explain why few books on the craft of writing address descriptive writing. The focus is usually on other elements, like character, plot, theme, and structure. While modern readers don’t require lengthy descriptions, descriptive writing is an essential skill, even in the 21st century.
For contemporary writers, the trick is to make the description as precise and detailed as possible while keeping it to a minimum. Most readers want characters and action with just enough description so that they can imagine the story as it’s unfolding.
Descriptive writing is especially important for speculative fiction writers and poets. If you’ve created a fantasy world, then you’ll need to deftly describe it to readers. Lewis Carroll not only described Wonderland; he also described the fantastical creatures that inhabited it. In poetry, the challenge is to describe things in a way that is visceral.
Simple descriptions are surprisingly easy to execute. All you have to do is look at something (or imagine it) and write what you see. But well crafted descriptions require writers to pay diligence to word choice, to describe only those elements that are most important, and to use engaging language to paint a picture in the reader’s mind.
10 Descriptive Writing Ideas
Here are some descriptive writing ideas that will inspire you while providing opportunities to practice writing description. If you don’t have much experience with descriptive writing, you may find that your first few attempts are flat and boring. If you can’t keep readers engaged, they will wander off. Work at crafting descriptions that are compelling and mesmerizing.
- Go to one of your favorite spots and write a description of the setting: it could be your bedroom, favorite coffee shop, or a local park. Leave people, dialogue, and action out of it. Just focus on explaining what the space looks like.
- Who is your favorite character from the movies? Describe the character from head to toe. Show the reader not only what the character looks like but also how the character acts. Do this without including action or dialogue. Remember: description only!
- Thirty years ago we didn’t have cell phones or the Internet. Now we have cell phones that can access the Internet. Think of a device or gadget that we’ll have thirty years from now and describe it.
- Since modern fiction is light on description, many young and new writers often fail to include descriptions, even when the reader needs them. Go through one of your writing projects and check to see that elements readers may not be familiar with are adequately described.
- Sometimes in a narrative, a little description provides respite from all the action and dialogue. Make a list of things from a story you’re working on (gadgets, characters, settings, etc.) and for each one, write a short description of no more than a hundred words.
- As mentioned, Tolkien often spent pages describing a single landscape. Choose one of your favorite pieces of classic literature, find a long passage of description, and rewrite it. Try to cut the descriptive word count in half.
- When you read a book, use a highlighter to mark sentences and paragraphs that contain description. Don’t highlight every adjective and adverb. Look for longer passages that are dedicated to description.
- Write a description for a child. Choose something reasonably difficult, like the solar system. How do you describe it in such a way that a child understands how he or she fits into it?
- Most writers dream of someday writing a book. Describe your book cover.
- Write a one-page description of yourself.
If you have any descriptive writing ideas to add to this list, feel free to share them in the comments.
Where do you get your character writing ideas?
One of the most difficult things to execute well in a piece of fiction is a realistic character. We’ve all read stories in which the characters were dull or hollow; they come across like clones of the same characters we’ve met in dozens of stories before.
Readers want characters who are as unique and complex as real people.
Are we, as writers, obligated to deliver such characters?
Not necessarily. Plenty of stories are plot-driven or centered around theme rather than character. But the stories that resonate the most have vivid, layered characters. Readers and writers often sing the praises of character-driven fiction. So the single best way to intrigue readers is to give them characters they can’t forget.
Character Writing Ideas
You can spend hours, days, weeks, or months developing character ideas. Whether you launch into your story with little knowledge of your characters or create full sketches and backstories for each one before you begin drafting the narrative, there are plenty of tricks and techniques you can use to inspire characters and breathe life into them.
- Use real people as models for your characters. Think of all the people you know intimately, people you love as well as people you despise. Take their strongest and most interesting traits and qualities and give them to your characters.
- Need a face for your character? You can use people you know for this too, but you can also use celebrities and other public figures. Some writers find that putting a face to a character brings out a more robust personality. Try it!
- Baby name dictionaries are a great starting place for names, and names can help you generate ideas for your character sketches. Think about how names influence our perceptions of people and sketch a character that fits his or her name.
- Start with a predicament. Then, you may need to create characters who have the skills to get out of that predicament. Thieves, for example, can pick locks, so if your characters need to get something out of a locked room or building, one of your characters may have some experience in burgling.
- Live out your dreams. When you were a kid, did you want to be a rock star or an astronaut? Well, now you can live vicariously through your characters!
- Turn to fiction. Books, movies, and TV shows are packed with incredible characters that audiences have already fallen for. Don’t try to copy these characters, but by all means, use them for inspiration. Ask yourself what made your favorite characters so compelling.
- We all have quirks, so it makes sense for characters to have quirks too. Freckles, bitten fingernails, a limp, or a lisp are all ways you can set one character apart from the others.
- Family and friends make us who we are. Draft sketches for your characters’ family and friends (even if they’re not going to appear in the story) and you may learn a thing or two about your character.
- Have some style! From a modern urban princess to a bum on the street, every person has his or her own style. Your characters should too! What do they wear? How does she make up her face? Does he wear cologne?
- Most people have interests, hobbies, and passions. Even if your character’s personal interests aren’t tied directly to the plot, they could enrich it, and they’ll certainly make your character more believable.
- I’ve always found mannerisms and gestures fascinating. You often see the same mannerisms mirrored throughout a family or group of friends. In fiction, give each character his or her own unique gestures – biting the bottom lip, scratching one’s forehead, and tapping one’s toe on the floor are all good options.
- Have you ever noticed that everyone you know has their own special way of talking? We each have a unique voice comprised of how we string words together, expressions we frequently use, and our intonation. You can make a character more realistic by simply giving the character a unique voice through dialogue.
- Some of the best characters are extreme or over the top. Think of Luke Skywalker, Robin Hood, and Indiana Jones. These characters have strong personalities and are deeply driven by higher values and personal desires. Think about how your characters’ philosophies and goals shape their personalities.
- Not all characters are human! Stories can be enriched with pets; they may not be necessary to the plot, but they can add to the emotional value of a story.
- Do you write science fiction or fantasy? Forget non-human pets. Try creating characters who are not of this earth: androids, aliens, and mythological or fantastical creatures.
- When you’re fresh out of good character writing ideas, try taking your characters out of the story altogether. Write a scene from a character’s backstory or draft a monologue in your character’s voice.
- Spend some down time with your characters. What do they do when they’re not struggling with conflict or saving the world? Where do you characters eat, how do they organize their closets, and what do they listen to while working out? Sometimes taking a peek at your characters’ most normal moments will give you insight to who they are.
- Balancing traits among a group of characters means that each character brings something different to the table. Harry Potter was a hero, but where would he have been without Hermione’s smarts and Ron’s loyalty? Distribute different strengths and weaknesses among your characters, especially if you’re writing an ensemble piece.
- The literary canon is full of ancient and archetypal characters. From the herald and the hero to the trickster and the villain, myths, legends, and fairy tales can inspire and inform your characters. Put a new twist on these old favorites by forming (rather than copying) your characters from these proven standards from storytelling.
- What about you? It’s the oldest trick in the book: base a character on yourself.
What are some of your favorite character writing ideas and activities? How do you come up with new characters or make your characters realistic? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.
Tips for developing story writing ideas.
Short stories, flash fiction, novels, and novellas: there are countless stories floating around out there — and those are just the fictional works.
It’s no wonder writers get frustrated trying to come up with a simple concept for a story. One look at the market tells you that everything has been done.
But what makes a story special is your voice and the unique way that you put different elements together. Sure, there might be something reminiscent of Tolkien in your work, but so what? Echos of Lord of the Rings can be found in some of the most beloved stories of the 20th century: Harry Potter and Star Wars, for example.
I’m not saying J.K. Rowling and George Lucas intentionally used elements of Tolkien’s work in their stories. Maybe they did; maybe they didn’t. But I would bet both of them read and appreciated Lord of the Rings. Whether they were conscious or not of its influence on their work doesn’t really matter.
Developing Story Writing Ideas
There are countless ways to develop story concepts. You can start with an event from the news or a character you’ve created; you can base your plot on an old legend or fairy tale; or you can combine two of your favorite genres.
- What happens when you mix Hamlet with Star Trek? Well, you might get something that looks like Star Wars. Take a traditional legend or folk tale and send it to space or place it in a magical fairyland to give it a new twist.
- It works both ways. You can take a modern story and put it in a historical setting. Star Trek is about explorers who are deeply humanitarian. Could there have been such explorers on Earth thousands of years ago?
- If you can create a believable and complex character, you can evolve a story from the character’s emotional landscape and personal experiences.
- A romance horror story, a western set in space, a chick-lit war story, and a fairy tale about the business world are all ways you can combine genres to inspire writing ideas.
- Instead of starting with a story, start with a big idea. How do you explore abstract concepts like sacrifice, redemption, rebirth, and wrath through story?
Sometimes, by brainstorming established genres, stories, and themes, you’ll find that an original idea emerges.
More Specific Story Writing Ideas
Let’s say you’re writing a story about a homeless teen who squats in a family’s Manhattan apartment during the day while they’re at work and school. It occurs to you that there are some parallels to Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Instead of writing off your idea as unoriginal, use the fairy tale to infuse your story with archetypes and symbols that are universally recognized: three teddy bears on the child’s bed, three chairs of various sizes in the living room, the family eating porridge for breakfast.
Here are some more specific idea starters based on fairy tales:
- Little Red Riding Hood in Suburbia: There’s a stranger at grandma’s house.
- Goldilocks and the Three Bears in the Big City: A squatter makes herself at home.
- The Gingerbread Phone: A smartphone becomes self-aware.
- Dystopian Cinderella: This fairy tale been done and redone. Cinderella is apparently an exhaustive source of story writing ideas. Set your version in a bleak future.
- The Little Badass Mermaid: Take any old fairy tale and turn the heroine into a badass.
- Beauty is the Beast – What if the gender roles were reversed?
What’s Your Story?
Our world is full of patterns and cycles that repeat infinitely. Every story you write comes from every story you’ve read. Some writers consciously use old tales as a foundation for their work; others are surprised when they realize there are blatant similarities in their work and someone else’s.
I’m not suggesting you go out in search of stories to rewrite (and I’m definitely not suggesting you avoid coming up with your own original ideas). I hear from writers, on a regular basis, who are frustrated because they analyze every detail in their stories and stress out when they realize certain elements already occurred elsewhere in the literary canon.
So, I want to put forth the simple truth that everything has been done. Your job is to do it your way.
Where do you get your story writing ideas?
Try something new with these poetry writing ideas and activities.
A poem can come out of nowhere and land on the page, fully formed, in just a few minutes. A poem can also be the result of hours (or weeks) of laboring over line breaks, word choices, images, and rhythm.
Poems are funny little things, appearing out of nowhere and disappearing for no apparent reason. Poets have to be diligent: be prepared when a poem arrives and if it doesn’t, go out and chase it down.
There are many ways to write a poem, and not all of them involve sitting at a desk staring at a glaring screen or curled up in a chair with a pen and notebook. Instead of waiting for poems to fall out of the sky, try some of these poetry writing ideas and activities, and go catch them!
Poetry Writing Ideas & Activities
Below are some poetry writing ideas mixed with activities to get poetry flowing.
- Take a poetry walk. Grab a recorder or a notebook and then set out on foot. You can use a timer and stop every five minutes to jot down a line, or take a break whenever you see something interesting or inspiring and note it. When you get home, work it all into a poem.
- Take a snapshot. Write a descriptive poem, choosing a simple subject or scene. The idea is to write a poem that feels like a picture.
- Cut and paste. Grab some old magazines, pamphlets, and junk mail and cut out the most interesting words and phrases, then tape or paste them together to make a poem.
- Get personal. Your deepest secrets, innermost desires, regrets, dreams, and fantasies are all excellent sources of inspiration.
- Write a response poem. Choose a poem that you admire or that confounds you — perhaps one that disturbs you or contains some element you disagree with. Then write a poem in response to it.
- State your positions. Write a political poem, a philosophical poem, or explore your ideals through image-rich language.
- Translate a poem into modern language. Many modern readers don’t care to read poetry that was written hundreds of years ago because the language has changed so much since then. So take one of those poems and update it into a more contemporary vernacular.
- Explore your beliefs. What do you value? Which morals do you hold dear? Share your beliefs and express your spirituality through a poem.
- Write to music. You can use a song with or without lyrics: give it words or give it new words!
- Pay tribute. Write an ode to someone you admire, respect, or love. For a more interesting twist and a challenge, write a tribute poem to someone you’re not that crazy about.
- Go big. Get large sheets of paper or use chalk on the driveway and draft a poem in huge, sweeping letters.
- Get in form. Many of today’s poets don’t experiment in form. Surprisingly, it tends to open rather than stifle creativity. It’s definitely worth a try.
- Make temporary art. Chalk and whiteboards are great for temporary poems. The idea is to create something, and then let it go. You can also write on paper and burn it, shred it, or black it out.
- Use doodles. Get a blank piece of paper and allow yourself to doodle on it as you write a poem. See if your doodles give your poem a new angle, either as part of the piece or by giving you interesting or fresh ideas.
- Get in shape. Choose a shape in silhouette form, and then fill the shape with words to build a poem into the shape: hearts, animals, people, and symbols (anything recognizable in outline form) work well.
What do you do when your poetry isn’t flowing? Do you have any poetry writing ideas or activities to share? If so, leave a comment, and keep on writing.
Tips for developing essay writing ideas.
Around here, we’re usually so focused on fiction, poetry, and journaling that we often forget about another form of creative writing: the essay.
The first essay that captured my attention and got me interested in essay writing was Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” which was also my first introduction to satire:
Written and published anonymously in 1729, the essay suggested that impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies. This satirical hyperbole mocked heartless attitudes towards the poor, as well as Irish policy in general. (Source)
“A Modest Proposal” is a harsh piece of writing but is both creative and socially conscious. Essays can also be academic, personal, or analytic. In terms of subject matter, essays can run the gamut. And while essays are often associated with academia because they are often assigned by schoolteachers and professors, plenty of writers have eked out careers publishing essays on a wide range of topics.
Today, we’ll focus on developing essay writing ideas, but first let’s look at a few types of essays.
What is an Essay?
The word essay comes from the French word essayer, which means “to try” or “to attempt.” An essay is a short format of writing, which usually presents an author’s personal point of view and can include criticism, arguments, observations, recollections, and reflections around a focused topic. Usually written in prose, the essay falls somewhere between an article and a short story.
According to Wikipedia there are three branches of essay writing:
Personal and autobiographical essays: These use “fragments of reflective autobiography” to “look at the world through the keyhole of anecdote and description.”
Objective and factual: In these essays, the authors “do not speak directly of themselves, but turn their attention outward to some literary or scientific or political theme.”
Abstract-universal: These essays “make the best … of all the three worlds in which it is possible for the essay to exist.” This type is also known as Giraffe Style Writing.
So, how does one come up with essay writing ideas? One place to start is by thinking about the type of essay you want to write.
Types of Creative Essays
Because essays are so broad and can range from academic or analytic to highly personal, we can further place various types of essays in an unlimited number of categories. Let’s look at a few types of creative essays:
Narrative Essay: Narrative essays are similar to short stories except they are nonfiction and usually relate to a core topic or theme. Such an essay usually makes a point using story as an example. These are excellent essays for journal keepers and short fiction writers.
Descriptive Essay: A descriptive essay avoids the author’s personal thoughts and feelings and focuses on the who, what, where, when, why, and how. These essays are ideal for anyone who likes to examine a subject from every angle and for writers who enjoy composing descriptive prose.
Personal Essay: A personal essay relates an author’s thoughts or feelings on any given subject. Subject matter can range from food, health, and parenting to political or philosophical beliefs. The writer’s personal experiences may be the basis for such an essay; however, personal experiences may be absent.
Reflective Essay: A reflective essay is a stand-alone piece and usually meant for publication. This is an essay about a personal experience, which is intertwined with thoughts (reflections) on it.
Response Essay: A response essay is similar to a personal essay in that it relates the author’s thoughts and feelings, except it speaks specifically about the author’s reaction to something; books, movies, travels, and other events and experiences are all fair game.
Argumentative of Persuasive Essay: These essays present the author’s position on an issue and apply logic, reason, and often, statistics and research, to back up the author’s opinions. Persuasive essays are designed to convince readers to do something or see some issue from a certain perspective.
This is just a small sample of the various types of creative essays you might write. You may find that just by reviewing the different types of essays, something clicks and you’re struck with inspiration. However, you may need to look to your passions and interests to generate essay writing ideas; you may need to start with a topic.
Writing Ideas: Choosing a Topic
In the world of essays, there are unlimited topics that you can explore. In fact, topical essays are considered one of the many types of essays that you can write.
Here are a few good strategies for selecting a topic if you’re looking for essay writing ideas:
- What are you most passionate about? What gets your blood boiling or makes you want to do a happy dance? Write an essay about it.
- What do you know a lot about? It could be something you studied in school or it could be career-related. Your knowledge base provides great fodder for essay topics.
- What do you want to learn more about? You can always conduct research for an essay, and if there’s some subject you’d like to learn about, then conducting that research for an essay is a great way to get started.
Let’s say you’re writing a science fiction novel and want to learn more about our solar system so you can depict space travel. You could write a descriptive essay of our solar system and start the project by writing a long list of questions to which you need the answers in order to get started.
Tips for Publishing Essays
Many publications accept essay submissions. You can write an essay for a specific publication or you can write an essay and find a publication for it later. Be sure to check the publications’ submission guidelines and follow them accordingly. For example, some publications only take academic or analytic essays; others may be looking for essays that deal with specific subject matter. In traditional publishing, you might find essay collections difficult to break into. You usually need a few publication credits (clips) or expertise in a field before landing a publishing deal in this form.
If you’re a prolific essay writer, you can always self-publish your essays on your website or through any of the many self-publishing avenues available.
Do You Write Essays?
Essay writing is a broad field for writers to explore. Some of the greatest artists, thinkers, and leaders have been essayists and contributed their thoughts, feelings, and perspectives to the greater culture through the written word. Have you ever written an essay that wasn’t assigned? What subject matter do you like to explore in essays? Where do you find essay writing ideas? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment, and keep writing!
Where do you get ideas for writing?
In fiction writing, we’re often inspired with a what-if question: What if an innocent citizen is convicted of murder? What if humanity finds itself facing total extinction? What if that rabbit hole leads to a fantastical wonderland? Fiction is driven by imagination.
Ideas for writing creative nonfiction often arise from experience and interest rather than imagination. Instead of asking a what-if question, creative nonfiction writers set out to share their experiences, knowledge, ideas, and curiosities.
Young and new writers often wonder what they should write about. Where should they focus their efforts? Creative nonfiction is a vast genre and can be quite lucrative. Readers are always looking for advice and information. People love reading real-life accounts by writers with firsthand experience. Whether you write a memoir about a personal experience you’ve had or launch a blog related to your field of expertise, creative nonfiction offers a world of possibilities.
Creative Nonfiction: Ideas for Writing
Writers who are on a quest for inspiration can look inward to find a wealth of ideas for writing creative nonfiction.
1. Start with yourself. Writing an autobiography involves telling your life story. You get to share your experiences, successes, and failures. The ideas for such a project come directly from your own memories. The trouble with autobiographies is that readers are rarely interested in reading biographical information about total strangers. Unless you’re a public figure, there might be little interest in your project. The good news is that you can fictionalize your life story, turn it into a novel, and pursue fiction readers. Or you can narrow your focus and write a memoir.
2. What is a memoir? A memoir is not a life story; it’s a personal account of a particular experience. For example, if you’ve survived an illness, disaster, or trauma, that experience might provide the foundation for a memoir. Writing of this nature is more appealing to readers because it speaks to a specific audience. Young parents whose children are struggling with autism, for example, will be highly interested in reading a memoir by a parent who raised a child with autism. What makes memoirs so popular is the promise that through personal experience, the writer has obtained expertise and is now sharing it with the world.
3. Are you an expert? Creative nonfiction does not have to come from personal experience. If you’re an expert on any subject, you can write about it. It might be the subject you studied in school, the work you’ve done throughout your career, or a hobby that you’ve enjoyed and mastered. Many writers avoid this type of writing, assuming that there is already enough information out there. But new works are being published every day on a wide range of topics. What makes them succeed is not necessarily the information that is imparted, but the manner in which it is presented. A unique voice, a new take on the subject, and a fresh way to organize the information are all viable strategies.
4. What’s your passion? You can take your personal experience and acquired expertise on anything in the world and turn it into a writing project. These days, writers share their thoughts and insights on everything from their favorite TV shows and video games to the meals they eat and books they read. You can write about the philosophy of Star Trek. You could share tips and strategies for playing (and winning) popular video games. If you love coffee and have a penchant for taking pictures, set out to make a coffee table book about coffee. If you spend your mornings gardening and your evenings creating delicious home-cooked meals, you can launch a blog packed with tips and ideas for gardening, cooking, or healthy eating. You don’t have to be an expert or a professional to talk about your passion.
5. Set out on an adventure or run an experiment. Elizabeth Gilbert set out on a year of adventure and then wrote about it and became a best selling author. A.J. Jacobs has built a life and a career around experimental adventures. He read all thirty-two volumes of the Enclycopedia Britannica and then wrote about it. He spent a year living biblically and then wrote about it. He also experimented with outsourcing his entire life, and then wrote about it. If you’ve ever wanted to embark on a grand adventure or found yourself concocting experimental lifestyles, you may find ideas for writing creative nonfiction within your own curiosity.
Where Do You Get Ideas for Writing Projects?
Ideas for writing books, blogs, and articles are all around you. These ideas also exist inside you. Your questions, curiosities, experiences, and interests all have the potential to launch your next writing project.
Where do you get most of your ideas?
How many novel writing ideas do you need?
Writing a novel is no small task. In fact, it’s a momentous task. Some writers spend years just eking out a first draft, followed by years of revisions. And that’s before they even think about the grueling publishing process.
In other words, you’re going to spend a lot of time with your novel. So you better love it. No, wait–loving it is not enough. You have to be in love with it. You have to be obsessed with it.
And obsessions cannot be forced. It’s normal to lose interest when you’re on your tenth revision, but if you’re losing interest in your plot or characters while writing your first or second draft, the problem may not be you or your novel. The problem may be that you tried to commit to something you didn’t love. That’s never a good idea.
For many writers, the trick to sticking with a novel is actually quite simple: find an idea that grips you.
Get in Touch with Your Passions
Before you chase every crazy idea into the ground, stop and take a breath. Think about what moves you. Books you couldn’t put down. Movies you watched dozens of times. TV shows you couldn’t stop talking about. Songs you played so many times, you’re sure they have bonded with your DNA.
By identifying your passions, you can figure out what makes you tick, and that’s a great start to your quest for novel writing ideas that you can really sink your teeth into.
All your past and present obsessions hold the clues to your future obsession with your own novel. Pay close attention to your preferences for genre, theme, setting, style, character archetypes and above all–emotional sensibility. Make lists of what you love about your favorite stories and soon, you’ll see the shape of your own novel start to emerge.
Generate and Gather Plenty of Novel Writing Ideas
Once you’ve made some general decisions about the novel you’re going to write, it’s time to start generating specific ideas.
Of course, the best novel writing ideas come out of nowhere. You’re on your hands and knees scrubbing the floor and suddenly that big magic bulb over your head lights up. Or maybe you have so many ideas, you don’t know where to start. It’s even possible that you’re aching to write a novel but are fresh out of ideas. Your mind feels like a gaping void.
Actually, story ideas are everywhere. The trick is to collect a variety of ideas, and let them stew while you decide which one is worth the effort. Here are some quick tips for generating ideas:
- Hit the bookstore or library and jot down some of your favorite plot synopses. Then, rework the details to take these old plots and turn them into new ideas. Try combining different elements from your favorite stories. And use movie synopses too!
- Load up on fiction writing prompts and develop each prompt into a short (one-paragraph) summary for a story.
- Harvest some creative writing ideas from the news.
Create a stash file for your ideas. It can be a folder on your computer or a box you can fill with 3×5 note cards. You can also write all these ideas in a notebook. Just make sure you keep them together so you can easily go through them.
Let Your Novel Writing Ideas Marinate
Some ideas are so great, you just can’t wait to get started. If you’re writing a poem or a piece of flash fiction, then have at it. If things don’t work out, you’ll lose a few hours or maybe a few weeks. But imagine investing years in a novel only to realize your heart’s not in it. Try to avoid doing that by letting ideas sit for a while before you dive into them.
The best ideas rise to the top. These are not necessarily the best-selling ideas or the most original ideas. They’re the ideas that are best for you. Those are the ones that will haunt you, keep you up at night, and provoke perpetual daydreams.
These are the ones worth experimenting with.
Experiment to See Which Novel Writing Ideas Can Fly
There’s a reason people test drive cars and lie around on the beds in mattress shops. When you make a big investment, you want to feel right about it. You can’t know how a car will drive until you actually drive it. And you can’t know how a bed will feel until you relax on its mattress for a while. And you definitely can’t know what your relationship with your novel will be like until you experiment with it.
In truth, the experimental phase is when you start writing the novel–just like the test drive is when you start driving the car. But you haven’t committed yet. You’re still open to the idea that this is not for you. This might seem like I’m nitpicking over semantics, but you’ll find that discarding partially written novels wears on you after a while. If you play around with your story with the understanding that you’re experimenting, and if things don’t work out, you can always walk away without feeling guilty or like you gave up. Go back to your idea stash, and start tooling around with the next one.
How do you experiment with novel writing? I’m so glad you asked. There’s a lot you can do. Start by brainstorming. Sketch a few characters. Poke around and see what kind of research this novel might demand. Draft a few scenes. Write an outline. If you keep going through these motions and can’t shake your excitement, then you are finally . . .
Writing Your Novel
At this point, you’ve already started writing your novel. But suddenly, you’re not just writing a novel. You’re deeply, passionately, obsessively writing your novel. If a couple of weeks go by and you haven’t had time to write, you miss your characters. When you get stuck with a scene, you simply work on some other part of the story because you’re so obsessed. You have to fight the urge to tell everyone about how the story is coming along. Your trusted buddy, whom you bounce ideas off of, is starting to think you’re taking it all too seriously. “Maybe you should watch some television a couple nights a week,” he says, looking concerned.
This is a story that’s captured your full attention. And that’s a good sign that it will capture the attention of readers.
Many (or most) of your novel writing ideas might end up in a trash can or a bottom drawer. But every one of them will be worth it when all of that idea generating, planning, and experimenting finally pays off. Every idea that doesn’t work will pave the path to the idea that will set you on fire.
So no matter what, no matter how many ideas come and go, no matter how many drafts you discard, never give up. Just keep writing!
Which of your writing ideas is leading the pack?
There are always too many writing ideas or not enough of them.
Some days, we writers are so overwhelmed with ideas, it’s impossible to get anything done. Should you work on your novel? That essay you’re writing for your favorite magazine? You have an original premise for a short story. And you feel a poem coming on.
Other days, we just can’t find any inspiration.
Prioritizing Your Writing Ideas
Prioritizing your writing ideas will help you stay focused on projects you’ve already started. Too often, we writers run around chasing one idea after another, never finishing the big projects we’ve begun. A priority list that we follow with due diligence will encourage us to finish what we’ve started. And when inspiration is fleeting, we can turn to our priority list and it will remind us that we have plenty of ideas ready and waiting to be explored.
It’s a good idea to keep track of all your ideas, and most writers are already adept at this. We jot our ideas down in our notebooks. We litter our work areas with ideas scrawled on sticky notes. We scrawl concepts on random bits of scrap paper and cocktail napkins. You probably already have a boatload of projects incubating all around you. Now, you just need to get them in order.
Keeping a master list of projects (including your works-in-progress and future project ideas) is a good way to start prioritizing. Electronic lists work well because you can move things around. Note cards are also good organizational tools because you can spread them out, color code them by form, genre, or deadline, and keep them in a box or bound them with a rubber band for easy storage and access.
How to Prioritize Your Writing Ideas
Before you prioritize your writing ideas, create a neat and manageable list using a spreadsheet, word processing document, or set of note cards. Then you can starting putting things in order.
1. Finish What You’ve Started
You’re three chapters into a novel when you come up with a breakthrough story idea for another novel. So you promptly shove your current project to the back burner and move on to the next idea. This is no way to get things done. Make a list of all your unfinished projects — the ones you fully intend on completing. Tackle those first. Add any new ideas to the bottom of the list and refrain from working on your new ideas until you’ve wrapped up the old ones.
2. Do it for Money
I’m not a big believer in making art just for the money, but we all have to eat. If you have projects that will ensure there is food on the table and a roof over your head, then get to those first. Business before pleasure, my friends.
3. Do it for Love
Nothing carries a creative project like passion. If you have tons of writing ideas and aren’t sure which one to focus on first, follow your heart. If you’ve finished your other projects and are eating well, then do what you love.
4. Little Things Come First
When you have a huge list, it can help to work through the little projects first — the ones that will only take a few hours or a couple of days. This is a great way to shorten your project list and get a lot done in a short amount of time. But take care — little projects have a way of popping up all over the place. Make sure you don’t let small projects keep piling up in front of your bigger projects.
5. Even Distribution
If you have big projects, little projects, ongoing projects, and one-time projects, short-term and long-term projects, try prioritizing one of each. In other words, write a poem, then a short story, then an essay, then start that novel, then go back to your poetry. You can go around and around. You’ll chip away at everything a little more slowly, but you’ll be well rounded for your efforts.
How Many Writing Ideas Are You Juggling?
Do you have more writing ideas than you know what to do with? Are you short on time or not sure what to tackle first? Try organizing your projects into a list and then prioritize them using these five methods for putting your projects in order. Keep adding all your new writing ideas to your list, but more importantly, keep writing.
Is your muse on vacation? Get your writing ideas here!
Have you ever sat down to start a new writing project and then realized an hour later you were still sitting there, staring idly at the blank page?
Sometimes writing ideas don’t come easy.
In a writer’s ideal world, the blank page is something we always look forward to, a fresh canvas that we can color with ideas and texture with language. When our muse is dancing around, we feel motivated and inspired, so that blank page feels like the start of an exciting adventure.
But if our mind isn’t in the right place, if our muse is on vacation, that same page is nothing but a source of frustration.
When I became a professional copywriter, I had to learn how to write whether the muse was present or not. You know how muses are, fleeting little hooligans. I couldn’t rely on mine all the time. So I learned how to get along without her. That meant coming up with my own creative writing ideas.
Outsmarting the Missing Muse
Yes, you can get along without your muse. I won’t lie to you and tell you that writing without your muse is the same. It’s less pleasant, more time consuming, and makes you feel like a struggling hack rather than the brilliant writer that you are. Still, life (and work and writing) goes on whether the muse is at your beck and call or not.
First, you have to figure out why your muse failed to show up. Here are some reasons mine runs off and hides:
- I’m just not that into this particular project and neither is she.
- The muse’s secret entrance is blocked by my stress, fatigue, or hunger.
- She’s put her time in for the day and has clocked out (the well’s run dry).
Once I recognize the problem, it’s a little easier to cope with the muse’s absence. I still miss her, but now that I know why she’s a no-show, I’m ready to forge ahead without her.
Forget the Muse, Discover Willpower
You see, the secret to facing the blank page without the muse is sheer determination. You achieve this by getting into the right frame of mind and using clever tricks to convince your brain that it can, in fact, function without the muse. I do this by telling myself any or all of the following:
- Once I get the first sentence out, the piece will start to flow.
- I don’t have to get it right (this is a rough draft, after all). I just have to get it written.
- If I hurry up and get this done, I can do something else.
Sometimes these simple reminders are all it takes to get your word machine in good working order. By forcing yourself to push ahead or promising yourself a little reward, you can actually convince your brain to become productive without its mischievous little friend. That would be your muse, for anyone who hasn’t been paying attention.
Try a New Approach for Coming up with Writing Ideas
What? You say your brain is smarter than you are, and these tricks don’t work for you? Don’t worry, I have more magic up my sleeve. After all, I’ve been outsmarting the muse for years.
- Take a break and work on a different writing project.
- Take a break and do something fun for a limited time, then force yourself to spend twenty minutes writing.
- Take a break and get your blood pumping. Exercise for twenty minutes, take a quick shower, then write for fifteen minutes.
Now, you have to be careful when it comes to taking breaks. You don’t want to stare at that blank page for five minutes, take a twenty minute break and then just repeat that cycle all the livelong day. That won’t do you any good and your absent muse will have won.
There’s a good chance your brain just needs to do a little stretching. Ever wake up in the morning and your muscles are all stiff? You yawn and stretch (and try to come alive). Sometimes your brain needs to do that too.
When you switch gears and get your wheels turning on a different project, you can build momentum for when you return to the one that’s giving you a hard time. Or, you could just be overworked and need to pamper yourself by having some fun. Play with the dog or the kids, watch some hilarous YouTube videos, or turn up the music and dance around in your underwear.
Uh oh. I said underwear.
That brings us to getting the old blood pumping. I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one on TV, so I can’t give you the biological, physiological diatribe about how blood flow and oxygen getting to your brain can make you more alert and get those creative juices flowing. But take my word for it. A little workout can do wonders for encouraging the word current. (Yes, dancing around in your underwear to really loud obnoxious music counts as a workout. Plus it’s fun, so you get two for the price of one.)
When the Muse Returns
When your muse gets back and discovers all the work you’ve done without her, you might want to gloat. This could discourage her from taking any sabbaticals in the future. Maybe you don’t want to hurt her feelings. If she’s sensitive, then gloating might only encourage her to take off more frequently. All muses are different, and I can only suggest you learn how to deal with yours through trial and error. But be sure to feed her plenty of cream puffs and chocolate éclairs.
You know what’s coming next, don’t you? Of course, because I’m so predictable. I want you to tell us all about your muse. How often does she take a vacation? How do you cope with her absence? Have you found ways to write without your muse, or are you fully codependent on her writing ideas? Is your muse a dude?
Do you have any tips for how to outsmart the muse and come up with your own writing ideas? Leave a comment but don’t tell the muses we’re talking about them. We wouldn’t want it to go to their heads.