Finding Ideas: 50 steps to success

Okay, so you want to write a book. But what’s it going to be about? Here’s a quick tip to get your creative muscles warmed-up.

Open a spreadsheet (or use a Sharpie and a roll of paper, whatever works for you), and write the numbers one to fifty in the first column. Done that? Okay, now the fun starts.

We’re going to write one idea for every one of those fifty numbers. It doesn’t matter how good they are. This isn’t the time to be critical. This is the time to be creative.

Start with number one and write the first thing that comes into your mind. I like to frame these as ‘What if?’ questions, but you can use whatever format you prefer. So for me, the first few ideas might be,

  1. What if cats developed telepathy?
  2. What if grass became poisonous?
  3. What if a ghost found itself haunted by a living person?
  4. What if sand had an agenda?
  5. What if everybody in the world suddenly developed the ability to travel in time?

As you can see, some of those are fairly random. But we’re not here to judge. The purpose here is to fill those fifty slots with the most off-the-wall creative ideas we can come up with. Only when we’ve done that will we go back and see if any of them start to suggest stories.

And if one suggests a partial story, try mixing it with another off the list. Sometimes you have to smash two story ideas together to achieve a critical mass.

Using my list above, imagine a story about a telepathic cat who helps a ghost that feels haunted by a living person. Or a world in which everybody could travel in time, but the food chain had crashed because grass had become poisonous.

Not all of your 50 ideas will be good, but some will be workable, or at least suggest interesting possibilities when smushed together with other ideas from the list. At worst, you will have spent fifteen minutes clearing some of the crap out of your brain, leaving you free to come up with even better ideas next time around…

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Author: Gareth L Powell