If you’re one of those people who ask how, when, where writers get their ideas, it might be hard for you to imagine the need to get a handle on Idea Overwhelm. But when it comes to generating ideas, many Creatives struggle with too much, too many, too fast! The ability to sift, hone and focus ideas and material is crucial to every writer’s success.
Here are 10 ways to begin to get a handle on your wealth of creative material:
- Go for your hot spot! Write your passion! Life is too short to choose tepid subjects. You will only end up boring yourself and your readers. So use free-writing, free association, bubbles, clusters and all the right brain techniques you know to get to the heart of your writing and your life. Start by asking yourself, “What am I passionate about writing and why?”
- Define your writing goal: You want your writing to impact your readers. Ask yourself these questions and give yourself five minutes to answer them: A) What do I want to accomplish with my writing? B) Who am I writing to? C) What one thing do I want my reader(s) to take away from this blog/story/book? When you are finished, take a break and repeat.
- Make lists, and more lists, and sub-lists: This might seem obvious but putting pen to paper and fingers to keyboard and working your way from the general to the specific is an extremely powerful tool when it comes to focus—and organization.
- Looping: I’ve heard this focusing technique called by various names but by any name it is powerful and easy. A) Write for 3 to 5 minutes. B) Circle a word that jumps out at you from your writing. C) Write about that word. D) Keep going and repeat as needed.
- Pitch ideas to a few trusted friends over happy hour: This is one I really encourage for nonfiction writers, especially those focused on self-help/how-two markets. Prepare your “pitch list” and invite a few trusted friends to your informal bounce or pitch session. Relax them (and yourself) with a glass of wine or some herb tea or a few yoga stretches (honest, it will loosen everyone up). And then pitch your ideas. When you get those totally blank expressions, move on to the next item on your list. And get your friends involved, asking questions, inviting their ideas. (Try to catch this on tape when possible.)
- The terrible-twos self-interview: This one is self-explanatory; I use a notepad, keyboard, or, even better, a digital recorder and I start with a statement—for example: “I want to write an essay about my aunt’s last months of dementia.” Why? “Because I am passionate to understand.” Why? “Because I am mystified by so many stories from friends about their experience with dementia.” Why? “Because it is so poignant to watch a person you are close to forget so much of their life.” Why? “Because it raises questions of what makes you, you, and me, me.” Why? “Because in the midst of forgetting almost everything else my aunt remembered that I was getting married to a man she’d never met and she figured out how to use the phone even though she’d been unable to make a call for more than a year.” And so on and so on… Your goal is go deeper and get to the heart of your drive and desire.
- Sketching: I am no skilled artist but it does help me to sketch out ideas using stick figures and color and words on a pad.
- Write for one person: For me, I have several target readers I write to. When I’m writing on my coaching blog, I might write to one client because I know my message will interest him/her. Sometimes I actually am answering a specific question someone asked me. When I’m writing a novel, I write to a trusted friend, lover, family member. In all cases, my chosen reader isn’t aware that I’m writing to her/him. And sometimes, I’m writing to several people. I have no hard and fast rules but I find it helps me get to the page and focus and keep going when I’m challenged. I know some writers secretly dedicate each story they write to someone who has inspired them. See if this is helpful to you.
- Imagining, visioning: I talk to writers a lot about their process around developing ideas. I hear many of them describe their work in visual terms as “weeding the garden” and “whipping up soufflés, some rise, some don’t” and “experimenting with various collages”. If you have an image, a hobby, something you respond to viscerally, see if it can help you in the honing and discovery process.
- Jezebel at the Ball: If you’re a fan of classic cinema you will remember the scene in the 1938 film Jezebel when Bette Davis makes her daring entrance at the ball in her strapless red dress (trimmed in black lace) while all the other girls are wearing virginal white with their shoulders demurely covered. Writer and teacher Leigh Anne Jasheway-Bryant tagged this “The Red Dress Theory,” to inspire her students of comedy writing. The idea is simple—you can’t take your eyes off Jezebel dancing in her red dress because she is bold and daring to the point of dangerous. When you are evaluating a sea of swirling ideas, look for the one that stands out just as clearly as Jezebel!