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Stop Worrying About Not Having Enough Ideas And Turn Yourself Into An Ideas Machine

So often I see writers posting about and talking about the fear of losing ideas or having their ideas stolen. In the world of today, it’s a legit concern, of course.

But that doesn’t mean it’s something you have to constantly worry about or focus on.

I haven’t really talked about this much, but in October 2010, my blog, Procrastinating Writers, got hacked. They stole everything, including Write Everyday, the most amazing writing app my cousin built for me that generated a random writing prompt and then gave you a space to write it in. It was the most popular thing on my blog and brought in a ton of traffic. (Which, if you know anything about websites, is a pretty big deal.)

It happened two years into my blogging journey, when I had already built an audince and had an email list and was selling my own product (an eBook). Readers were emailing me, telling me that all of the links on my site were broken.

When I checked it out, what I saw was devastating.

The homepage of my site was there–and looked totally normal–but when you clicked on the headline to go read the post it took you to a white page with a bunch of random text. But it wasn’t my site.

My site, was gone.

GONE.

It was one of the worst days of my life.

Two full years of blogging, including writing three posts a week for most of 2010. I was beside myself. I went numb.

All of my words. All of the research and ideas and love that I put into building that site… gone.

I didn’t think I’d ever blog again. I gave it up.

For about a week.

And then I had some sense knocked into me by a fellow blogger who suggested I contact her husband for help restoring my site. Thankfully he figured out a way to restore all of my content from an old backup I had. So I didn’t lose all of my posts (just some of them, and that awesome Write Everyday app, damn it!!)

But all of that got me thinking…

What if I DID lose everything?

What if I DID have to totally start over with my blog and do it all again, from scratch?

What if I had to write new posts and come up with new ideas?

Could I do it? Could I really do it all over again?

And it was in this moment that I stopped being attached to my ideas and stopped feeling idea-lack. I realized that I had tons of ideas and I had processes and exercises for generating more of them.

I was an ideas machine. I had ideas coming out of my ears and I could come up with ideas not only for myself, but for other people as well.

I also stopped worrying. I stopped spending any energy or time thinking about or worrying that my blog would get hacked again. (I did set up better protection for my site as to best avoid that happening again, because, of course!).

And as I did this, as I let go of attachment and the feeling of lack around my ideas and realized I could generate ideas whenever I wanted to, I became a whole new kind of writer.

I became a writer who has endless ideas. Who never worries if an idea slips her mind or she loses one or someone steals one, because another one is right there, ready to go.

A quote I used to have written down when I was in high school–and I wish I could remember who said it–went something like this: There are writing ideas in front of you all day long. Great writers see 5-6 of them, most don’t see any.

And it’s SO true!!

Life is the greatest idea source we could ever have access to. And you don’t just have to use your life. You can look at the lives of other people for inspiration too.

If you use life as your inspiration there’s no way in hell you could ever run out of things to write about. Never. It’s impossible, because life is an abundant, endless, infinite muse.

For those who choose to see it that way.

I get emails almost daily from people telling me how much my daily blog posts help them and inspire and motivate them. (I love hearing that!!) And what’s cool is all I ever do (or mostly, anyhow, I suppose I do write about writing and storytelling a lot too) is just write about my life and what I’m thinking or feeling in that moment.

I just pull ideas from the ether and write them down.

I’m an ideas machine. I’m a writer who sees the 5-6 ideas (and sometimes more) every day and uses them to create and put out content for my audience.

And you can be too.

Yes. You.

You can be an ideas machine too. You, too, can pull ideas from the ether and write them down for your audience.

You can be a writer who sees the 5-6 ideas daily. A writer who pays attention. Who asks questions. Who wonders.

A writer who puts out daily (yes, daily!) content, in some way, shape or form.

People are always telling me they can’t understand HOW I create so much content and do so many things. And it really just comes down to paying attention to the ideas and writing them down and being committed to acting on the best ones.

If you want to be an ideas machine and a writer who can generate ideas and creative energy in the drop of a hat, here’s what you need to do:

1. Pay Attention More

Be present in the moment and pay attention to what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling because that is where your best ideas will always be.

2. Write Down Ideas Every Day

As much as possible, spend time generating ideas. I’m constantly making lists of ideas for things I can write about, create, teach, etc. I don’t use most of what I write down, but the act of writing the ideas down always allows the good ones to come through and grab my attention.

And then those are the ones that become books and workshops and blog posts, etc.

3. Believe In Idea Abundance and Know that There’s Always More Where That Came From

When I made the decision to believe that ideas are everywhere and that I never have to worry about losing one or someone stealing one because I always have another, that’s when I became an ideas machine.

4. Create of Iterations

There are no new ideas anymore. Everything has been done before. So all we can do now is put our unique spin on things, by creating iterations of what already exists.

Story planning is not a new thing. I didn’t invent it or put terms to it. But I teach it. I use it as inspiration for my writing. I’ve created content and products around it. Because it’s something that helped me (going back to that whole writing and creating from your life thing) and so I know it can also help you.

What iteration can you create? What ideas can you take and tweak and put your own unique vision and spin on? You’ll never run out of ideas doing this, and each one will be unique and new in its own way.

5. Think Like A Journalist

Look at a situation or a person or place, and ask questions and consider things. Who built this? Why? How did they do it? What does she look like that? What happened to her? What if she was born in a cult? What if her mother never loved her? What if I wasn’t stuck in traffic right now? What if I chose to just take the next exit and see where it takes me?

When you’re inquisitive and you look for the story in everything, you’ll find it. And sometimes it will be something that you actually want to develop further.

How do you generate ideas for your writing? Where does your inspiration come from? Share in the comments.

Dream life or bust,

 

 

 

#DreamLifeOrBust #DailyThinkDifferent

P.S. There’s only 24 HOURS LEFT to grab my KILLER Flash Sale deal… get my Writing Life Rehab workshop for only $7!! That’s 92% OFF the full price of $97. This is THE workshop that will help you finally be disciplined and create a habit around your writing.

But this deal ends soon, so be sure to >> Grab your $7 Writing Life Rehab deal here: www.jenniferblanchard.net/writingliferehab

Here’s Why Most Story Ideas Are Totally Lame-Ass (And What To Do About It)

How many times have you had a writer-friend (or someone in your writing group, etc.) say to you, “I’ve got the best idea for a story!” but then when they tell you what it is, it leaves you thinking: they need to learn the definition of “best” (and the definition of “story”)?

Welcome to the world of agents, publishers and writing coaches.

There are millions of writers out there who all want to write a story. Problem is, most of them have really lame-ass ideas.

I can’t even tell you how many story ideas I hear on a regular basis that start out with something really generic–I want to write a story about love in the south. Or my story is about a girl who escapes a bad home life. Or it’s a coming-of-age story for a boy who just wants to be in a band.

LAME. AVERAGE. EVERYDAY. And that is NOT what great stories are made of. 

Sure, a great story may start with something kinda lame, average and everyday, but with the right information and creativity injected, it becomes something much better.

Just think if J.K. Rowling came up with the idea to write about a wizard-boy, and then just left it at that. LAME!

Because while the day-to-day life of a wizard-boy may be interesting to you–and maybe even interesting to some–it’s not ever gonna be enough to make your story stand out among the sea of stories about wizard-boys. You need more than that.

You need something high-concept. You need a freaking Concept, period. You need a bad guy and a Premise for the story

And it’s kinda hard to have those things when you’re constantly settling for less-than-average story ideas.

Where the Real Problem Lies

The real problem for most writers isn’t that they have lame, average, everyday ideas (although that is the problem for some of them). The real problem is that most writers aren’t generating enough ideas in order to actually uncover the ones that are worth writing about.

So they settle for some half-baked, lame-ass idea, because it’s all they can come up with.

And that’s what’s really sad. Half-baked, lame-ass ideas are career suicide for writers.

Writers who write and publish ideas like that are the reason so many writers believe that it’s “hard to be a successful fiction writer” and “writing fiction can’t possibly be a full-time career” and “successful self-published novelists just got lucky.”

But the truth is…it’s none of that.

The truth is, those fiction writers who have created success did so because they didn’t settle for the first idea that came to them. (Which is another reason why it’s SO important to plan and develop your story before you write it–but that’s a whole other ball game.)

And if you’ve ever had that experience I just described–where no one is buying your novel, no one is leaving reviews and no one except people related to you are telling you that your story is any good–it’s time to own up to the fact that your story is probably pretty freaking lame (sorry to be the bearer of bad news). 

You Need To Do THIS Instead

If you want to avoid being one of those writers who either spends their life pitching and re-pitching and re-writing pitches and getting rejected by a thousand agents and publishers who all pretty much say the same thing–“this story sucks”–or who self-publishes a novel, only to hear crickets…you have to STOP SETTLING.

Settling is for writers who don’t believe enough in themselves to wait for–or keep digging for–the golden idea that will take their story to a whole new level. (Another reason why planning is so imperative.) Writers who settle do so because they’re afraid that’s the only idea they’ll ever have, so they’ve gotta run with it while they’ve got it. 

And some writers who settle have even convinced themselves that the lame-ass idea is actually pretty good (delusions that will get you no where).

But you’re not a settler, right? Because you know that you want an actual, real shot at having a successful fiction-writing career. 

And to have that actual, real shot at success, you’ve gotta have a kick-ass story. Anything less just won’t cut it.

Here’s How To Cultivate Better Ideas

There’s an exercise that I do on a regular basis to help me generate killer ideas–for fictional stories, for nonfiction eBooks, for blog posts, for video posts, etc. You can do this exercise with pretty much anything you need to generate an idea for.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Get out a notebook or a piece of paper
  2. At the top of the page write an intention for what you want to generate ideas for (for example, “Books I can write” or “Stories I can tell”)
  3. Make a list of 30-50 ideas that fit under whatever you set as the intention (an alternative version would be to set a timer for 10-15 minutes and generate as many ideas as you can ’til it goes off)

Now the point isn’t to come up with 30-50 really awesome ideas. Not at all.

The point is to come up with 30-50 bad or so-so ideas, which then clears a path for a really killer idea to come through. Sometimes it comes though on the actual list. Other times it will come through afterward because your mind is free and clear of all those mediocre ideas.

That’s the thing about the mind–it takes in SO much information on a daily basis and you’ve got SO much going on inside there. It can make it really, really tough to “hear” the great ideas (or even the really good ones) when you mind is clogged with crappy, average, lame-ass ideas and thoughts.

This exercise will help you clear those out so you can finally have access to the ones that are actually worth writing.

You Can’t Just Do It Once

A lot of times after I teach this exercise to writers they’ll try it and then say to me, “I did it, but it didn’t work. Or I didn’t come up with anything great.” To which I respond, “Do it again.”

Generating ideas isn’t something you do once or only when you need an idea. No, idea generation should be something you do on a regular basis.

I have “idea generation” on my to-do list DAILY.

Now I don’t always come up with 30-50 ideas. Sometimes I do 5-10 or sometimes just 5, but the point is, I make a focused, conscious effort to continuously generate ideas every day.

By doing this, I get my mind thinking in the right way and focusing on the right things: better ideas.

Most of what I come up with is total crap that I would never do anything with. But every time I do this exercise, I always come up with 1 or 2 really killer ideas that I can act on right away.

And that’s the whole point.

Share With Us

Give this exercise a try and then come back and report in the comments how it went for you. 

It’s almost time for my sixth-annual fall story planning workshop!!! (Perfect for NaNoWriMo prep.) This year I’ve got the best version of this workshop ever… more details coming later this week. Get on the waitlist right here to be the first to know when the doors open (and to get access to a special Early Bird Bonus).

StoryTV With Jennifer B., Episode Two: Are You Too Attached Your Story Idea?

How many times have you written something that you really, really love… but it’s just not working? And yet even though it’s not working, you still can’t give it up?

Whether that’s a character, a story line, a scene or something else, if you’re too attached, you’ve got a serious problem.

Because the initial story idea is never good enough. Not even close.

But if you refuse to let go of what’s not working, you’ll never get to the real story.

Are you too attached to your story idea? In this episode of StoryTV I talk about what being too attached is, why it’s a problem, and how to let it go.

Share With Us

Are you too attached to your story idea? How are you going to remedy this? 

How To Turn Your Idea Into An Actual Story

As a fiction writer, you have lots of ideas in your head for stories you can write. But the problem with most story ideas is this: they’re not actually stories, they’re just ideas.

In order for an idea to become a story, there has to be certain elements in play:

  1. A Protagonist—one that readers will root for
  2. An Antagonist (or Antagonistic force)—something specific to oppose the Protagonist and provide conflict in the story
  3. Stakes—something must be at stake for the Protagonist

This is bare minimum. Without these three things you don’t have a story.

A lot of times writers confuse a “story” with what I call an “idea seed.” An “idea seed” is just the beginnings of a story. It’s a blip of inspiration—a character, a scene, a situation, a location. But it’s not a story.

An Example

To help illustrate the difference, let’s look at an example.

Let’s say a writer came to me with the following idea: a small-town girl who just graduated from college moves to the big city and has to deal with life in her new environment. 

This writer has already written a good portion of her first draft, but then somewhere around the middle she got stuck. She wasn’t sure where else to go with the story.

The first thing I’d point out to this writer is that she doesn’t have a story. What she has is a character, a situation and an episodic timeline of events.

But it’s not a story.

Something has to happen, in order for it to become a story. An Antagonist has to be introduced, stakes must come into play, and there must be conflict.

What this writer has at the moment is an “idea seed.”

The story development process allows you to plant that seed and allow it to grow. You do that by asking a lot of questions.

For starters:

  • Who is this girl?
  • What are her dreams?
  • What made her want to move to the city after college?
  • What does she want in her career?
  • What does she want, in general?

Once we get to know the Protagonist a little, then we can ask things, like:

  • What could potentially get in the way of her getting what she wants?

This will help you to come up with possible antagonists or antagonistic forces that could oppose the Protagonist.

To fill in the details and continue with the example, let’s say this girl has always dreamed of being a serious journalist, so she moved to the city to get a job working at a magazine. More than anything in the world she wants to write about things that matter, she wants to make a difference in the world through her words.

OK, great—we know who this Protagonist is. Now we need to fill in the details on the “something happening” in the story. Let’s say the “something happening” is she has a hard time finding a job in her field, and someone tells her that she has to “pay her dues first,” so she decides to take a job as an assistant to the editor of one of the most popular magazines in the world. Oh, and this editor (aka: the Antagonist) is a total nightmare, bitch-boss from hell.

Now we’ve got a story rolling. But we’re not finished yet, because we still haven’t put anything at stake.

So let’s say the Protagonist has been in a relationship with the most amazing guy for almost five years now, they’ve moved in together and are on the marriage track. But suddenly this new job of hers is getting in the way—she’s not able to spend as much time with him; she breaks their plans because she has to work; and he only sees her in passing now when she gets home from work and before she falls asleep.

You see where I’m going with this one?

This relationship means more than anything to her—but so does working at a magazine and getting to make a difference with her writing. This story now has inherent conflict built right in.

We could keep going with this, developing the idea even further, adding more conflict, a strong theme, and a subplot or two. If we kept going, we’d likely end up with something similar to The Devil Wears Prada, by Lauren Weisberger.

BUT—this idea is still generic enough that, if developed in a different way—a different Protagonist with a different desire, something else at stake, a different type of magazine, etc.—we could create a whole new story.

The choice is yours. You get to take the idea seed in your head and play with it, tear it apart, break it down, add things, take things away and ask questions. The deeper you go and the more you’re willing to move away from your original seed—in order to optimize the story— the better story you’ll end up with in the end.

It’s unfortunate, but many writers skip over the story development stage, and jump right from idea seed to first draft. In doing this you’re missing a huge opportunity to make the most of your story idea—by developing and planning it.

The Story Roadmap Workshop

My self-paced Story Roadmap workshop will help you take the idea seed in your head and develop it into a full-blown story. Then it will walk you through creating your story’s structure and building a scene roadmap that you can use to write a strong first draft.

Story Roadmap also comes with a bonus: a free 60-minute coaching coaching call with me, so you can get feedback from a pro writing coach on the work you’ve done using this workshop.

>> Learn More About Story Roadmap

Image courtesy of Jordanhill School D&T Dept

Do You Have An Idea Or A Concept?

“Why won’t this draft work?!” I threw my notebook down in a fit of brattiness. I was on the third draft of a novel. My first novel. The one I wrote back in 2008.

I’d been writing it for months, and still nothing was going right. The story wouldn’t flow like it should, my heroine was a whiny, alchy mess, and the plot didn’t quite make sense. There were so many holes and I had no idea how to fix them.

I was in over my head. This draft, this story, was not working. I was finally ready to admit it.

Problem was, admitting didn’t change the fact that I’d spent close to a year writing and rewriting and rewriting a draft, just to still be sitting in a mess.

I had no idea what I was doing. I was ready to quit.

If you’ve written a first draft before, you know where I’m coming from. You know what it’s like to have a story feel not quite right or parts that don’t seem to fit. No matter how much you rework it.

Why Your Novel Won’t Work

Instead of quitting, I stopped working on my draft and took a short break. Immediately following that break, I had a breakthrough. I came across a website called StoryFix.com and an author named Larry Brooks. Brooks pulled no punches in talking about what it took to write a novel that “worked.”

A major thing I learned from him–from studying his teachings, his methods–was there are story “ideas” and there are story “concepts.”

Most novelists don’t have a “concept” when they start writing, they only have an “idea.” And that lack of concept is what turns their drafts into a hellish nightmare where they either rip all their hair out, quit or end up in a mental institution (OK–maybe not a mental institution, but the drafting process really can drive you NUTS!).

If you’ve experienced this before it’s because your story was only an “idea” when you started writing it, and not a full-blown “concept.”

It’s like you put the bread in the oven and baked it, but you never added any yeast or gave it time to rise (two essentials for baking bread).

You can’t write a strong first draft unless you’ve dug deep enough to have a concept for your novel. (And writing drafts based on “ideas” can kill your spirit–and your fiction career.)

So What’s The Difference?

Stories, at their core, are all about one thing: something happening.

It’s all well and good to have a story with a fancy theme, a cool setting and an amazing protagonist, but if nothing actually happens, your story’s a dud.

Think about when you tell stories to other people–what are they about 9 times out of 10? Something that happened! An action, a conflict.

THIS is what differentiates an “idea” from a “concept.”

An idea is often a seedling, such as a:

  • Location
  • Backstory
  • Theme
  • Character
  • Setting

But that’s all there is. There’s nothing to elevate the seedling to the next level.

And while these seedlings are great and are completely needed, they don’t, alone, make a story work.

A concept is the stuff great novels are made from–a concept is a full-blown picture of a journey.

Every great story (of modern day writing) has a protagonist who has “something happen,” and then he’s forced (by the antagonist) to go on a journey in order to solve a problem/defeat the antagonist/get what he wants. 

Idea Or Concept?

An “idea” becomes a “concept” when it has:

  1. A Character (Proagonist/Hero)
  2. A Goal (Something the Hero wants)
  3. A Motivation (The ‘why’ that’s driving what the Hero wants)
  4. A Conflict (The Antagonist, what’s standing in the Hero’s way of getting what he wants)

Here’s an elevator-pitch formula you can use to begin turning your idea seeds into a fully-sprouted story concept:

(Character) wants (Goal) because (Motivation), but (Conflict)

Some examples:

  • Jack Dawson (Character) wants to get to America so he can start a new life (Goal) because he’s a street rat with nowhere else to go (Motivation), but little does he know the ship he’s on is headed for disaster (Conflict). (Titanic)
  • Dr. Leo Marvin (Character) wants to enjoy his vacation and the success of his book (Goal) because he’s been working hard and has finally become a well-known psychologist (Motivation), but his newest patient, Bob Wiley, has plans of his own (Conflict). (What About Bob?)

This formula can help you take an idea seed and turn it into a full-blown concept.

Share With Us

Do you have an idea or a concept for your current novel? In the comments 1) Share your concept, OR 2) Using the formula above, turn your current idea seed into a concept and then share it with us.

Image courtesy of Andrew Tarvin