“Everybody walks past 1,000 story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see 5 or 6 of them. Most people don’t see any.”
–Orson Scott Card
One of my writing mentors wrote that he is always suspicious of people who say they can’t think of things to put on the page. Most professional writers have too many ideas to write them all. What makes the difference? Two words: Observation and Innovation. Most of the time we are extremely focused on the tasks we have to complete, and we miss so much going on around us. This tunnel vision is sometimes necessary, but breaking out of it will definitely stimulate your thoughts. You can become an idea assembly line by developing these two skills.
Observe everyday life – Take notes.
One day I was sitting in the donut shop. A woman with a toddler-age child strolled in; both were wearing purple glitter hi-top sneakers and this caught my attention. They also wore bright blouses, jean jackets and long frilly skirts. I wondered if the youngster had decided on their outfits. In between turning the pages of my book, I observed the child enjoying her donut using both hands. Mom used a knife and fork, slicing as if enjoying prime rib. They were having great fun. I jotted down a few notes before leaving. I knew those few observations could add realism to something I’d write later.
When life isn’t enough, innovate!
Consider everyday items in a different light.
A kid wonders if a toaster will cook a hotdog (laugh, but there is such an appliance). A curious person asks what if an answering machine actually answered questions. Does a ten-gallon hat hold ten gallons? Nope, less than four.
Can you think of some ways an object might be useful other than its intended purpose? Some of these turning-something-on-its-head thoughts can become interesting articles or story ideas.
Skew your view; look at a situation in a new way.
Instead of writing about why it is important to follow traffic laws, imagine a day when no one does and write about it.
They see the world from a different viewpoint than you, literally. Life seems quite odd when you are the height of most doorknobs. What if you walked around on your knees all day to regain a child-like perspective? Children also have limitless imaginations. They can help us remember where we put our creativity when we become too serious.
Now it’s your turn.
Can you come up with 10 ways your characters interact differently than society would expect? How about coming up with 10 questions an alien would ask if they were dropped off in your neighborhood. What 10 things do you know about right now that could become articles or story ideas?
Clunk, clunk, clunk – the assembly line is flowing. Hone these skills of observation and innovation and they will serve you well.