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Writing Inspiration in Everyday Items

brainstorming2As a writer, I have many ideas. They come to me in different shapes and forms and strike me at the weirdest times. I try to keep a notepad by my side, but it’s not always possible.

There are other times when ideas just don’t seem to freely come anymore. It’s like hitting a sandbox while running on a highway. It slows me down. It bothers me.

Normally I work on multiple projects at any given time, so I can switch between them, but every week I make a point to have a brainstorming session and get some fresh ideas for my idea binder.

Recently, I attended a free workshop organized by the Gotham Writers. They partnered with Bryant Park in New York City and during the summer they organize workshops and readings outdoors. I recommend these meetings to any writer living in New York. You get to meet a lot of interesting people and learn a lot of good things.

Anyway, at this workshop the presenter gave us a system for coming up with ideas. He attributed this method to Ray Bradbury, but I wasn’t able to find a proof for that. It could be. Either way, I took that idea and I made it mine by changing it a little bit. So, here I am to share with you: How to get endless ideas?

First of all, go to a place that is less familiar. This means get out of your usual environment. If you work in your home office, or your business, just go someplace else. If you are inside, go outside, if you are outside, go inside. Even better- try to use the opportunity of being in a place that is completely unfamiliar, like visiting something new, or a place that changes often, like a flea market. The goal here is to get away from all the things that are too usual to your day to day life.

Step One: Root Item

Once in this place, look around. Do a 360 and allow your eyes to feast on the sights. What do you see? You don’t have to look for things out of the ordinary, but if you happen to see one, take note of it. Start writing down the things that catch your eye. Stop at 10. You now have a list of 10 items. Here’s an example:

Bus, Pole, Bench, Tree, Statue, Calculator, Flag, Bush, Pebble, Bird

Step Two: Making it specific

In the course of doing this, your eyes might fall on the same thing in different sessions. To make it more diverse, we will take each item and make it specific. This is where you will use your senses. Listen. Look. Smell. Touch what is near you (make sure it’s not a person, though!). Feel with your body. Is there a vibration in the air? Is there a sublime calm? Use all your senses and come up with qualifiers, like this:

Blue, Shivering, Lean, Loud, Rude, Stiff, Enormous, Stinky, Flat, Snug

Step Three: Connect Them

Now, draw random lines connecting one root item with one modifier. Add a “The” in front of them and watch the results. Don’t over-think it and try to keep it random. Here’s mine:

brainstorming

Results:
“The Enormous Bus”
“The Blue Pole”
“The Flat Bench”
“The Lean Tree”
“The Shivering Statue”
“The Stiff Calculator”
“The Stinky Flag”
“The Rude Bush”
“The Loud Pebble”
“The Snug Bird”

Now that you have this list, you might want to pick the top five. Reading these potential titles, which ones begin to give you some idea of a potential story? Here are my selections, from my example:

“The Flat Bench”
“The Lean Tree”
“The Shivering Statue”
“The Rude Bush”
“The Loud Pebble”

Step Four: Characters (optional)

If you want to take it a step further, you can add some characters to these ideas. If you happen to be in a place with people, it’s all good. If you are home, maybe turn on the news channel and wait to see something. Otherwise, maybe you can just imagine some characters, or borrow characters that you love from your favorite stories. Write just a couple of lines and give them a name, like this:

Steve ParkseTall, skinny, messy hair, but perfect business suit. Nice polished leather suitcase, but worn-down shoes. He smiles but there’s something dark in his eyes.

Angela DawsonSporty and short, with long hair in a high pony tail. Perfectly manicured nails. Too much make-up. She walks with confidence, head held high.

Tim McNealyStocky guy, wears suspenders. Walks sluggishly holding a sub in one hand and Fitness magazine in the other. He’s dressed in gym clothes.

Now that we got a few characters, let’s throw them in the mix:

“Tim And The Flat Bench”
“Steve And The Lean Tree”
“Angela And The Shivering Statue”
“Frodo And The Rude Bush”
“Sherlock Holmes And The Loud Pebble”

Did you see what I did there?

Step Five: Write!

All right, now we got some cool ideas. Are they stories yet? Not really, but they do start to point towards a story, don’t they? That was the goal of this exercise- to get you started.

Keep these notes, accumulate them in a binder or your favorite software and every time you hit a rough spot, take them out and start writing. Don’t judge, don’t edit. Your goal is to fire up your imagination. Take any of these one line titles and write about them. You don’t even have to write the entire story. A scene, or a paragraph is enough. You’ll thank yourself.

I am curious to hear what you think about this method? Do you use any similar systems to fire up your imagination? If so, share with us!

Also, please help me spread this article by tweeting it:

[Tweet “Writing Inspiration in Everyday Items #fictionwriting”]

Thank you and keep at it!

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Iulian Ionescu

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