how to manage story ideas

An exercise to help you manage your fiction writing ideas.

Today’s storytelling exercise is an excerpt from my book, Story Drills: Fiction Writing Exercises, which helps beginning to intermediate storytellers develop skills in the craft of fiction writing. This exercise is designed to help you manage your writing ideas (or lack thereof). It’s called “Managing Our Ideas.” Enjoy!

All the storytelling skills in the world are useless if you don’t start with good ideas. Most writers suffer from too many ideas. They give up in the middle of a project to start a different project when they get a tempting new idea. But other writers struggle to find ideas that they want to explore. They think their ideas are boring or unoriginal, or maybe not strong enough to keep their interest for the full duration of a book-length project.

Generating ideas, choosing the best ideas, and seeing ideas through to completion are important skills for a writer to develop.

Most ideas that seem fresh are just old ideas with a new twist. It’s almost impossible to find a story that doesn’t include various elements from stories that came before. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be original, but if it’s preventing you from creating stories, perhaps you’re being too hard on yourself and your ideas.

Before diving into a long-term project, make sure you’ve explored all your options and chosen an idea that you can see through to completion. Before committing to a project, spend some time with its concept and premise. A short story isn’t a major commitment, so jump in. But if you plan to write a novel, which could take a year or more, ask yourself whether it’s really an idea to which you want to make a long-term commitment.


You’ve probably already acquired some story ideas. Maybe they’re stuffed in a shoe box, scattered around your office on sticky notes, or stored on your computer or mobile device. Gather up all your ideas and review them.


Create a system to manage your story ideas. You could create a folder on your computer that contains one document for each story idea. Maybe you’ll use index cards and file them in a box. You could use sticky notes and attach them to pages in a binder, which would allow you to sort, organize, and prioritize. Come up with a system that allows you to quickly and easily store and review the ideas you’ve had, but also one with space that allows you to further develop your ideas.


Why do some writers want their work to be totally original? Why are new ideas so alluring that they entice us away from projects we thought we were committed to? What can we do to make sure we finish projects we’ve started? Why is it helpful to keep track of our ideas?


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