Your All-Purpose, Idea-Discovering, Secret Weapon! (My hands-down, favorite, most-used technique.)

The easiest, clearest, best, favoritest, all-purpose idea making strategy EVER. (I love it. Can you tell? I really love it.) | lucyflint.com

Last November, I had a ton of fun inventing a list of fifty off-the-wall plot twists to help out all my writing buddies doing Nanowrimo.

Fifty plot twists! I was surprised at how quickly I thought of them all (more to come on that!). And I loved the quirky list when it was done. (It's a little bizarre. Just what I love, haha!)

Well, it turned into my most popular post of all time. I'm thrilled that it's been such a helpful resource for thousands (and thousands!) of people. 

But the coolest thing about all that and what I love most about it: It was so easy to come up with all those ideas! Seriously!

To generate so many crazy plot twists in just one afternoon, I turned to a method that I've enjoyed using for a long time.

I learned it from Roger Von Oech's A Whack on the Side of the Head—which is a MUST READ if you want to supersize your creativity! 

He calls it creating an oracle. (Check out more of his explanation on his blog.)

I've seen this method other places too, but Von Oech's book was the first place I saw it. And he was the only one who referred to it as an oracle. Which is, let's face it, a pretty cool name.

I've mentioned it before on this blog, but it's such a life-saver that I had to talk about it again, here in the midst of Idea Camp

The premise of the oracle method is really straightforward and simple. But it's incredibly powerful. Why? Because your brain brings all the magic. And our brains are pretty incredible.

So, buckle up!

At the heart of it, the oracle method is all about connecting two dots. You provide Dot #1 (your question or problem). The oracle provides Dot #2 (a random word or concept, which usually feels completely unrelated to your question).

And then: your brain steps in and connects the dots.

That connection—sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly, sometimes wild, sometimes fantastic—that is your new idea.

Sound fun? Because it's totally fun!!

Give yourself some time to practice it, and then marvel as your brain provides one solution after another.

So here's the real step-by-step. 

1) Find your oracle.

Yes, that sounds a bit weird. But all Von Oech meant was some book or resource that provide you with nouns.

I use a dictionary, or an encyclopedia. Or even, in a pinch, any novel or book lying around.

(He says you can even use a magazine and refer to the pictures... but I'd get too distracted!)

2) Define your problem.

Yep, you're all over this step by now!

You don't have to go mega in-depth, but you do need a crystal clear sense of what your problem is. The clearer you are, the better. This is your Dot #1!

3) Open your oracle and get a noun at random.

Open the book at random. And then grab a word off that open page. 

Oh, and don't try to select a juicy word.

At least until you get the hang of this, force yourself to get a random one: the top left corner, or the bottom right are good places.

Pick the very first noun there, and then close the oracle.

4) Consider your "answer."

So this word you've just grabbed? That's your marvelous Dot #2. And you owe it to yourself to give it a little thought.

You don't have to do a ton of research about it (unless you really want to!). Just mull it over in your mind for a second.

What does it mean? What images does it bring to mind? What special meanings might this word have for you? 

And then what are its other uses? Is it also used as a verb, or a proper noun? How many things could it mean? Does it represent other, bigger concepts as well? Are there metaphorical uses you're familiar with?

What else does it make you think of?

Feel free to jot some of these down. Again, it doesn't have to be laborious... just see what comes to mind, and take down a few notes.

If you have several angles to work with, you're in pretty great shape.

5) Give your brain the chance to connect the dots.

This is where it gets crazy and fun: the creative process up close! 

Decide that this Dot #2 somehow gives you the answer to your problem or question

Yes, that can feel a little weird. You might stare at it in frustration for a while, thinking, how in the heck are these two things related?

Because that's what you're looking for: A connection. 

Any connection. 

Give your brain a little space. Doodle on the edges of your paper. Stare out the window for a while.

Just keep turning the two things over in your mind: the problem, and this weird, doesn't-make-sense "answer." 

And keep looking for how they might be related.

It could be really off the wall. It could make you laugh. It might be too strange to credit at first.

But the more you play with it, the more you see how it actually, really, truly could work.

6) Call in extra help.

Usually one word is all I need for this. But now and then, I honestly can't think of anything workable with my first chosen word. I'll do all the thinking, and give myself time, and nothing breaks loose.

What to do? Flip open the oracle and grab a second word! Sometimes even a third. 

Play around with a few more concepts. See how your new words interact with the first one, how they're similar, how they contrast. And see how they react with your proposed problem.

Give them some time, and see what shows up!

So far, I've never needed more than three words to hit on a brilliant idea. So, even if you're frustrated with the process, hang in there! Let your brain play longer. Take a break and come back. Doodle more.

7) Take notes on your fledgling idea.

As soon as you feel like you're on to something, take those notes that you need! 

Flesh out the idea, add anything else that you're thinking of, the supporting details, the other information you'll need, anything you see in your head.

If your solution has stirred up more problems, you know what to do: Grab that oracle and launch into the next idea-finding session.

And then apply it to your draft or project, and you're off and running!

8) Repeat as necessary (and feel like a genius).

This gets easier—a lot easier!—with practice.

The more you trust the process, the longer you can hang in there when it feels uncomfortable. You get into a rhythm. You instinctively feel your way to the wild possibilities a lot faster.

Best of all? You get kind of addicted to that miraculous feeling of a new idea sparking in your mind.

(Because it is SERIOUSLY cool. And really fun.)

And then... go crazy! Invent to your mind's content. You can solve a dozen story problems in an afternoon. Or dream up fifty plot twists! ;)

This is truly the problem-solving technique that I use the most. It's easy, it's quick, and it's deliciously fun. 

Please give it a try, and let me know how it goes for you. 

Here's to overflowing with ideas!