Four Quick Fixes for the Next Time You're Looking for a Fresh Idea

A few more tricks for the next time you need a fresh idea! | lucyflint.com

Well, Idea Campers, how are you all doing? Do you feel armed and ready to face anything your work-in-progress throws at you? Because we have covered sooooo many idea-finding strategies by now!

When you're on the lookout for a new idea—an appealing, useable concept with velocity—it helps to have a range of techniques, right?

We have a list of major interests and a list of curiosities, to spark excitement in our ideas. We have a list of topics for which we've already done allllllll the emotional research (so let's put it to good work!). We have idea scout files and title files, ready to add shape and heat to our projects.

When things get really tricky, we know how to go over the problem in laser-like detail, to know exactly what idea we're looking for. And finally, we have the all-purpose skeleton key of idea-making: my favorite strategy ever.

Whew! That's a lot of power tools!! 

But just in case you'd like a little more back-up... 

Here are a few other idea-making techniques. Because it's good to have a trick or four up your sleeve for those really tough days. 

1) Remember the value of bridging ideas.

One of the reasons why I like to do a lot of my idea work with pen and paper is so that I have a written record of my process.

Why is that important? 

Because along the brainstorming path, there are sometimes these weird idea cast-offs.

Bizarre, off-the-wall, "couldn't possibly work" kind of ideas.

The awesome thing about these crazy ideas is their ability to spark other ideas.

They bridge you forward to a new idea that you might not've had, if you thought "pffft, I'm not writing down that dumb idea."

Know what I mean? 

Roger Von Oech calls these "stepping stones." In A Whack on the Side of the Head, he writes: 

Stepping stones are simply provocative ideas that stimulate us to think about other ideas. Stepping stones may be impractical or improbable, but their value consists not in how practical they are, but in where they lead your thinking. 

Exciting, right? 

So after an idea session, save your notes for a little while. Go back over them in a calm moment. You might find cast-offs that belong in your idea scout files: tidbits that didn't work to solve this problem, but which might be pure gold another time!

2) Shake your imagination up with a crazy challenge.

I saw this approach in Twyla Tharp's outrageously helpful book, The Creative Habit. She says we should have "an aggressive quota for ideas." 

Such as?

Such as, come up with sixty ideas in two minutes.

No, seriously. That's what she said. 

This is the kind of challenge that blasts you over obstacles, over hurdles.

You lose your hang-ups. All ideas count: everything is written down in the rush to fill up the list!

Which means? You end up with some really cool ideas. (And even the unusable ones could be stepping stones to other ideas...)

So before you totally dismiss this (like I did the first time!), give it a try.

Set a timer. Number a piece of paper. And then let rip.

You might just shock yourself with what you come up with... especially just before the timer dings.

3) Turn random into spectacular.

This is based on an exercise that Donald Maass presents in his incredibly helpful guide, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. (This book is on my all-time absolute must-read list for novelists, so, if you haven't read it yet, you owe it to yourself to check it out!)

In the exercise, he's showing how to weave elements of a novel together (and it's fantastic for that!), but I think that you could do it with any kind of idea generation.

Here's how it works:

Whatever your main problem or question is, try to split it into three categories or three topics. Write them out (with a little space in between) across the top of a sheet of paper.

So, in his example, you're listing characters, settings, and plot layers.

To look for an idea that might happen within a scene, you might list characters allied with the protagonist, characters allied with the antagonist, and various motivations/goals. 

If you're creating a title, you might list key characters, important images from the book, and the main settings.

Make sense? 

Once you've figured out your three categories, try to list six things in each category, and write them under each of your headings. 

And the more in each list, the better. So if you can come up with ten or even twelve for each of the three categories, that's great.

And then? And then it gets really exciting: 

You take a pencil and start drawing random lines, connecting entries from the first list to the second to the third.

What are you after? You're looking for connections.

You're looking for three entries to combine in such a way that your mind grabs the idea and starts running. 

So give it a little time, and keep messing around with it. Draw lines every which way. Link names and concepts together, and watch for what happens in your mind. 

I love this strategy because it shows me how to pair story or scene elements in new ways. And then? The idea sparks fly!

4) Get a new environment.

If you keep looking for good ideas and keep not finding them, try changing up where and when you're doing your looking.

If you normally brainstorm at your desk, in the afternoon, try: outside, in the morning. Or in your car, at midnight. In a grocery store, at 4:30. 

Sometimes we just need to change up the mental chemistry, move to fresh air, switch it up a bit.

It is perilously easy to fall into a rut when I'm doing all the same things in the same ways.

Find a way to change your surroundings, and you just might find your way to a fresh crop of new ideas.


There you go! A few more ways to find the brilliance that's lurking all around and inside you.

At this point, you're essentially unstoppable. I mean, look at you!

But just in case you hit a really rough patch, I've got you covered. Stay tuned for the next post...

This Is How You and I Are Gonna Remake the World

We're gonna dive in and do this well; we're gonna fling ourselves into a fictitious universe and write our way out. Here's some courage for that crazy road. | lucyflint.com

It takes an incredible amount of focus, energy, and determination to fling your brain into a fictitious universe. 

I mean... think about it. We are creating a different reality and then trying to jump into it

That takes some work. Right?  A ton of focus, courage, boldness, willingness, and all the imagination power you can muster.

Also? It's Monday. 

So let's get a pep talk from a bunch of other creatives, other world-jumpers. 

Below are thirty of my favorite quotes for the writing journey. Quotes for this mysterious, shadowy, reality-jumping side of the writing life.

Think of it as a big shot of caffeine for all of us who are chasing our stories.

Woo hoo!


One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. -- Annie Dillard

Don't be so afraid of giving yourself away, either, for if you write, you must. And if you can't face that, better not write. -- Katherine Anne Porter

To write truly good stories, stories that will satisfy you as well as your readers, you must do something no writing teacher, no book, no guidelines, can help you with. You must take risks. Knowing your craft can help you tell a story. But only by taking risks can you make art. -- Marion Dane Bauer

Good writing comes from writers on the edge. -- Ralph Keyes

You have to write your own book. The one only you can write. No one else. This takes fearlessness, but the exciting good news is doing the book teaches you the fearlessness you need. -- Heather Sellers

We have to be braver. ... Quotes for the writing journey on lucyflint.com

You have it inside you to fight this fight. Write, think about what you write, then write some more. -- James Scott Bell

Always attempt the impossible to improve your work. -- Bette Davis, note to self

Sometimes the mind needs to come at things sideways. -- Jeff VanderMeer

Write. Write badly, write beautifully, write at night. Stay up way too late, ruin your skin, forget to shave, grow your hair long at your age, and write and write and write and write. Make a mess. Don't clean it up. Do it your way. ... This is your book. -- Heather Sellers

I believe that solitude, perhaps more than anything, breeds creativity, breeds originality. -- Elizabeth Berg

I am learning to see loneliness as a seed that, when planted deep enough, can grow into writing that goes back out into the world. -- Kathleen Norris

You find yourself writing your way out of loneliness, writing your own company. -- Barbara Abercrombie

The uncharted path is the only road to something new. -- Scott Belsky

Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind. -- Rudyard Kipling

I get ready every night. I pack for the trip. I load my dream mind, hoping I will wake in the morning inspired, clear, and refreshed. I read good books. I have my journal by my bed. Every night, I'm getting ready for my writing morning. I point myself that way.  -- Heather Sellers

The primary purpose of imagery is not to entertain but to awaken in the reader his or her own sense of wonder. -- Tom Robbins

How all good writing is built. ... Quotes for the mysterious, shadowy side of writing on lucyflint.com

I don't know anything when I start. The only thing I know is that I'm starting. -- Richard Bausch

Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. -- E.L. Doctorow

Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase. -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Writers steer by wonder and desire. -- Heather Sellers

All writing is dreaming. -- Jorge Luis Borges

The impulse for much writing is homesickness. You are trying to get back home. -- Joan Didion

Embrace passion as a daily practice. -- Donald Maass

You must have a belief in your vision and voice that is nothing short of fierce. -- Betsy Lerner

Be Careless, Reckless! Be a Lion! Be a Pirate! When You Write. -- Brenda Ueland

There is so much about the process of writing that is mysterious to me, but this one thing I've found to be true: writing begets writing. -- Dorianne Laux

Be the fearless, shadowy, wild writer that you are. ... Thirty quotes for the mysterious, shadowy side of writing on lucyflint.com

Yes! Yes! THAT!

... And here's the last one, which is a long, granddaddy of a quote, but here we go anyway because it's lovely:

    If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling.
     You must write every single day of your life.
     ... I wish for you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime.
     I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you.
     May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories. ...
     Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world. 
-- Ray Bradbury


There it is, my lovelies. The best kind of sustenance for this journey we're on. 

Your turn: Any favorite quotes that help you be a reality-jumper? a dweller in a fictitious time and place? 

Which of the above quotes will you be using to dive into your alternate reality this week? 

Happy dreaming, my friends! Happy writing, lionhearts.

Bring the Awesome into Your Novel with These Resources

If you're writing a novel and you want it to be amazing: these are the three books you need to get your hands on. | lucyflint.com

If you're writing a novel, and if you're committed to making it the best darn story you possibly can: these are the three books you need.

These three books will put the AMAZING into your novel. | lucyflint.com

The Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook is simply the best resource I could possibly give you. Period.

... Although, if I'm handing out recommendations, then in the very same breath, I've got to say: Get the companion book (Writing the Breakout Novel) and also The Fire in Fiction (which also has exercises that are SUPER helpful: it builds on the other two books, without unnecessary overlapping). 

If you're like me, it's easy to read a brilliant book about the craft of writing. If you're like me, it's easy to nod and underline and feel very wise.

And then it's hard as heck to apply what you've learned. Yes? Turning theory into sentences and paragraphs... I tend to feel really inspired--and then I give up. 

Well, the concepts in Writing the Breakout Novel will convince you that this is exactly what your novel needs. I mean: it's written by Donald Maass, a massively experienced literary agent. And he's pulling apart the elements that make the great novels work. 

He knows what he's talking about. And as you read it, you'll find yourself nodding, yes, yes, yes, this is exactly what I love to read too, this is what I love in a story, this is what my novel needs--

And then the Workbook comes along, spelling out everything in very practical terms, and then stepping you through the application of each one. He tells you how to make your characters unforgettable, how to make your plot layered and complex, how to give your writing that resonance that readers love. 

He breaks it down to the smallest components, and then leaves space for you to jot down how to make it work in your story. (Your brain will explode. Mine still does, every time I go through it.)

The Fire in Fiction follows it up, with more transformative exercises, and more elements of the most powerful fiction: how to shape scenes so that each one moves the story forward in a powerful way; how to make the extraordinary plot twists feel realistic; how to get tension into every page of your book so that no one can put it down.

Deepen your novel with The Fire in Fiction. | lucyflint.com

But for all that, none of this feels gimmicky to me. They aren't silly tricks. He's teaching the elements of unforgettable fiction. The craft of it.

Nothing has transformed my stories like these books.

No other resource has helped me feel this confident about what I'm writing.

If you were interested by the idea of a master class but you weren't sure where to go with it, then let me humbly suggest: This workbook plus you plus your novel. For a year.

I'm dead serious. 

It's far cheaper than taking a class. And I'm pretty sure it will have an equal--or greater!!--effect on your work.

You won't be sorry.