One Simple Way to Grow Your Creativity (and Generate Hundreds of Ideas!)

You have hundreds of ideas at your fingertips. |

Being a writer means: Solving problems. Generating ideas that fill the gaps (in the story, the character, the setting, in the writer). 


Sometimes--we don't know how to fill all the gaps.

Here is one easy trick to give yourself hundreds (and hundreds!) of new ideas: instantly.

CONSULT AN ORACLE. (I've seen this strategy a number of places, but it was Roger von Oech in A Whack on the Side of the Head who called it an oracle.)

This is a massively simple, widely applicable technique. Ready?

First, consider your problem. Whatever it is that you're trying to solve. Think of it as a question. Got it? Okay.

Grab a dictionary. Or encyclopedia. Or actually any book that would contain a noun. (Or even a picture of a noun.)

Open it at random. And the first noun at the top of the left page (or the bottom of the right page, or wherever your finger hits when you jab the open book):

That's the answer. 

Apply it to your question. No, really apply it. Find a connection. And then try to find several more.

Imagine that you asked a writing master how to solve your writing conundrum and they said that one word. How might you interpret it? 

As you struggle to see it as an answer, the creative sparks fly.

For example, let's say we're trying to figure out how our character--let's call her Clarissa--confronts an obstacle. Let's say she has to climb up the Mountain of Frightening Beasts, and we don't have any great ideas.

We state it as a question: How does Clarissa make it to the top of the Mountain? 

Then we grab an oracle. 

The nearest book for me is Collected Poems by Jane Kenyon. I open randomly to page 76 and the first noun of the poem is hemlock. 

So Clarissa might carry poison with her, and use it to drug the Frightening Beasts. 

Or, she ingests some kind of substance that makes her undetectable, unsmellable, invisible, and slips past.

Or--since hemlock is a plant--maybe she finds a tree with astonishing properties...

Hemlock is often confused with wild carrot, so maybe she makes a wild carrot salad and uses it to lure the giant saber-toothed rabbits away from the path... 

Or she meets a mysterious character named Hemlock who knows of hidden pathways...

See how this works? 

For a super tricky or complex problem, you can grab two or three nouns. 

And if you arm yourself with five to ten nouns, you could probably dream up an entire scene, a whole chapter, maybe an entire plot.

So there you go: Face those gaps bravely. You can fill 'em all.