Match the following nine approaches (to ideas generation) to their full definitions below.
- Reading a lot, to write a photonegative of what you’ve read
- Brainstorming and bouncing ideas off others
- Problem-solving strategies
- Go on a writing retreat
- Creative writing exercises
- ‘Free’ writing
- Fuzzy thinking
- Experimenting with sensory inputs/stimulants
- Simply not worrying about it
a) This is when your mind ‘relaxes’, for example when you are about to go to sleep. It’s at times like this that you solve that crossword clue you’ve been mulling all day. It’s at times like this when the synapse patterns in your brain change and things combine in unusual ways: you get new ‘ideas’. Make sure you keep an ideas diary by the bed, because when the morning comes your mind returns to its normal state and struggles to recapture those ideas you had before dropping off.
b) A classic example of this is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), when participants are challenged to write 2000 words a day for a month. The quality is NOT at all important. It’s the quantity that’s all important. Just let the words flow (even if you don’t think much of them), because you will come back to them at the end of the month to edit it all (probably down to a far smaller wordcount).
c) If you’re going to copy, copy from the best. If you are writing within a genre, you need to be familiar with the most famous titles in that genre, because more often than not those titles define the genre. If your own work doesn’t reference them in any way, your work might not even be recognisable as a part of that genre! In this sense, there is no such thing as 100% originality. At the same time, while you’re reading, think to yourself: ‘Hmm. I wouldn’t have written it like that. I’d have written it like this! Oo. That’s a good idea. I think I will write it just like that!’ So you’re not copying exactly, you’re writing something differently, almost the opposite of what you’ve read.
d) If you become stressed with the ‘need’ to come up with new ideas all the time, your mind might never relax properly to come up with anything new or insightful. Leave it to the muse. Let them worry about it instead.
e) Samuel Coleridge famously wrote Kubla Khan while under the influence of drugs. Just as famously, he failed to complete the poem, when his inspiration was interrupted by his personal secretary. This story about Coleridge may not be entirely ‘true’, but it contains insights about both the power and risks of using artificial stimulants.
f)Instead of trying to achieve some altered state of mind through the use of stimulants, you may simply find that changing location can help. Jeffrey Archer often to went some idyllic village in France to write his novels. Roald Dahl wrote in his shed, looking out on the peace of his garden. They say your mental space often maps onto your physical space, and viceversa.
g) Get all the ideas you have out onto a piece of paper and try and organise them in some sort of logical order… or plot. If you’re wrestling with the plot progression or characters, ask your mate in the pub.
h) Studying an aspect of written language, with examples, can give you insights about how to combine things in a new way yourself. Writing magazines or writing courses will often provide such opportunities. They will also suggest things to try yourself, and sometimes run a competition.
i) Private sector companies are always looking to develop new world-beating products. In order to do this, they treat the current state of the world or their markets as a ‘problem’ that needs ‘solving’. They use a range of ‘innovation and creativity’ methodologies to help them gather information, generate insights and then design products. One of the most famous approaches is the ‘story-telling methodology’, in which the customer experience is told as a sort of hero’s quest. The company might then brainstorm particular ‘interventions’ to change the quest’s outcome from negative to positive.
Answers: 1c, 2g, 3i, 4, 5h, 6b, 7a, 8e, 9d.
Which of the approaches do you already use? Do they work? There is no ‘correct’ way to come up with ideas. There’s only finding which way(s) work(s) best for you.
However, if you tend to struggle with coming up with ideas – if you sometimes get writer’s block – then you’re clearly going about things the ‘wrong’ way. In such a case, it’s time to try something new. Which of the approaches do you think you might like to try in the future?
Yet some of the approaches might seem just plain daft to you. You don’t have to try all the approaches in order to come up with great ideas. Often, the most suitable approach for you is based on the ‘type’ of thinker that you are. If you’re not sure what type you are, check out tomorrow’s lesson.
If you want to develop as a writer, you need to develop yourself. That means you need to develop your thinking also. If you feel that you’re in a rut, getting nowhere or you’ve stalled, you need to force yourself to try something new. Show the nine approaches to someone else, see which ones they tend to use, and then see if they can help you with those approaches! At least have a chat about the topic. You might be amazed by what you find out. But it’s up to you. I can’t force you. (Wait for tomorrow’s lesson if necessary.)
I’ll be posting a new lesson every day (Monday-Friday), to help people who are stuck at home because of the coronavirus situation. These mini-lessons will give you a useful daily routine, and might just keep you sane! Stay safe.
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