The Fuel of Creative Writing: Ideas

Ray Bradbury: I don't need an alarm clock. My ideas wake me.

In creative writing, ideas are everything. No matter how good a writer you might be, without ideas you will have nothing to create.

You are actually already bursting with great ideas, whether you know it or not.

Trust me, you have enough raw material inside you right now for more novels than you could ever hope to complete, no matter what age you are or how uninteresting you believe your life might have been.

All you need is a foolproof method for discovering these novel ideas, and you will find it right here.

First, though, a warning...

Do you remember at school how your teachers told you to spend the first ten minutes of an examination reading the questions? Well, it's the same thing with writing...

In creative writing, ideas might be plentiful but that doesn't make them all valuable. In fact, settling on the first idea that drifts into your head could be costly if it later turns out to be the wrong idea. You could face months or even years of wasted work - and I should know because I've done it.

So, don't rush into a decision. As this section shows, writing ideas are actually simple to find, and not that time-consuming to find, either - unlike writing the novel, which will most likely take you years.

It makes sense, therefore, to wait for the right idea to come along (you'll know when it does), and not to settle on second best for the sake of another day's or another week's searching.

Of course, there is another potential problem here: being so cautious that you never commit to anything...

  • Yes, you'll know when the right idea comes along (the infinite possibilities it contains will keep you awake at night with excitement).
  • But you still need to make that decision to go with it - to dedicate a significant chunk of your life to it, effectively. And that takes courage.

Okay, it's time to roll up your sleeves and get down to the nitty-gritty of finding some ideas. Winning ideas might seem elusive if you have already racked your brains and come up with - well, not much. But if you go about it calmly and logically there is really nothing to it.

An Introduction to Ideas and Inspiration

What Are Novel Ideas?

The first thing you will want to know is what it is you are searching for, exactly. This article reveals all.

Where Do Novel Ideas Come From?

And while we are dealing with the basics, you might be wondering where all these creative writing ideas you're about to magically discover are hiding.

Writing Autobiographical Fiction

All fiction is autobiographical to an extent. We have only ever lived one life (our own), and so we cannot help but write about it. The danger is being too autobiographical, as this article explains. I also look at...

  • How to "write what you know." One piece of advice you hear a lot as a novel writing beginner is to write about what you know. But how does this square-up with the advice to NOT write purely autobiographical fiction?
  • The power of the imagination. In this detailed look at novel ideas and where they come from, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that you can create much of your novel right inside your head!

Keeping a Writing Journal

Last piece of general advice before we get to the meaty material on how to actually find ideas for a novel. Keeping a writing journal isn't going to help you much with finding ideas for your first novel. But if you start keeping an "ideas" journal today, you will be overflowing with raw material for novel number two.

How to Find & Test Creative Writing Ideas

Finding Writing Ideas In 2 Easy Steps

My two-step process for finding ideas for fiction is simplicity itself, but also magical in its results...

  • In Step One, you learn how to brainstorm in a highly-focussed and highly-productive way.
  • And in Step Two of the process, you learn how to take all those brainstormed notes and play around with them, trying out different combinations, until you find the perfect writing idea for you.

How to "Road-Test" a Novel Idea

How will you know when you have found the "perfect" idea? The truth is, it can be incredibly difficult sometimes to tell if you have discovered a diamond or a worthless lump of coal.

This article shows you how to "try out" an idea before you commit all of your time and energy to it.

Caveat: One Novel, One Idea!

This final piece of advice particularly applies if you're writing your first (or perhaps your only) novel.

Writing a first novel is exciting, thrilling and probably the biggest creative challenge you will ever face. You have most likely been thinking about it for years...

Ideas have been building up inside you all that time - consciously or subconsciously - and all of a sudden you have the opportunity to set them free in a work of fiction.

There are few better feelings than that in life!

Now, the temptation is to let all these ideas come flooding out and somehow find a place for them in your novel. But it is something you must resist, at least if you want your first novel to be successful.

I see it all the time when folks just starting out in creative writing run their ideas past me...

  • They want to write a coming-of-age-novel about the effects divorce has on a child (because as a child they went through this experience themselves).
  • The novel is also about how people with mental disabilities are treated by society (because they have been on the receiving end of some prejudice in their time).
  • Oh, and they've got plenty to say about the power of friendship, too, so they are going to try to work that in somewhere.
  • The novel is basically a drama, but they've always loved crime fiction so they are going to work in a murder as a subplot.
  • And although the novel will mainly be set in their hometown of Sydney, they also want to try to include a section set in the Brazilian rainforest.

Yes, I'm exaggerating - but not by much. The temptation to do something like this really can be overwhelming when, for the first time in your life, you are faced with a blank canvas. But you must resist it.

A coming-of-age story about the effects a divorce has on a child sounds like a great starting point for a novel. Also making it about mental disability might work, particularly if the disability was triggered or worsened by the divorce. But throw in the friendship theme on top, as well as the murder and the section set in the rainforest, and it starts to sound like not one novel but several.

If you try to pour everything you have into your first novel, you will have two problems:

  1. The book will be a mess and very probably unpublishable.
  2. Even if you do achieve the near-impossible and get your novel published, you will have nothing left to say in your second book.

Like I said, writing a first novel (or any novel) is an exciting time, but you must be restrained. If ideas come to you which have no place in the book you are currently working on, get them down on paper but then file them away for later.

Take it one novel, and one idea, at a time.