At the core of any successful story is a great idea. So what makes a great idea? What triggers tension? What moves the plot forward in a satisfying way?
Here are four tips for finding ideas to push your writing forward:
Find a moment of truth. Maybe you have a character floating around in your head. There is a sudden realization that marks a turning point or major change. A pivotal moment where nothing will be the same again. Now, figure out what came before and what will happen after.
Create a shocking twist. You’re writing along, minding your business and suddenly your character up and does something shocking. It is unexpected. It is inevitable. It suddenly changes your story from good to great. If you’re in a stuck place, or just casting about for a story idea, ask “What if” to find your shocking twist.
Find a haunting image. Have you ever seen a painting or photograph that punched you in the chest? Stuck in your mind? We write words to create visual images in readers’ minds, so it’s not surprising that images could spark a story idea or scene. Next time you see something striking, ask yourself why it resonates. Freewrite about it. See what bubbles up.
Write about something weird. I was chatting with a plumber recently who had come to my house to do some work. We got to talking about writing and he said he had done some writing but he was stumped because all of his ideas were “weird.” My response: “And how is that a problem? Weird is good. Go with it.”
For a related post about finding ideas, read Carol’s post Four questions to help you mine your life for story ideas.
One of my friends is writing a travel memoir about a trip he took more than 20 years ago. He’s shared with me his writing struggles. Some details stand out as clear as if they happened yesterday. He remembers troubles along the way and the kindness of strangers. He can still recall the smell of the coffee and the way the biscuits and apricot jam tasted at a particular restaurant. He remembers the weather he had to struggle through on part of the trip and the jacket he was wearing.
Other parts of the journey are a complete blank.
I asked him a few questions to spark his memory, but ultimately here is what I suggested he do. If you’re struggling with recreating your past, you might want to try these tips too.
Write. Don’t think or talk too much about your memories. Instead write them down. It’s easy to over think your story and get tense because you can’t remember something. It also takes you out of your dream state and into an analytical mode, which isn’t a good place to be when you’re writing your draft.
Start with one small scene or detail. Pick one faint memory or even something distinct and write about it using all your senses. Remember how the air smelled after the rain — like a mixture of dust and electricity — or how it felt to finally stretch out on a soft bed and smell the sweet scent of freshly laundered sheets after so many hours on the road. The more you write about a memory or incident or moment, the more you will remember. Read more
“My favorite rejection letter was from an agent who said, “We don’t have time to take on any new clients, and if we did, we wouldn’t want you.” But I kept trying. My second book got published. The first one never did.” Lisa Scottoline, author of legal thrillers.
The above quote comes from the book “The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists,” edited by Andrew McAleer.
Rejection is a natural part of any creative pursuit. In business, we say, “Some will. Some won’t. So what.” I like to say, “Some will. Some won’t. Keep going!” Okay, so maybe the alliteration isn’t as good, but the message is better. “So what” gives the vibe that you don’t care. “Keep going” conveys determination. Much better.
Last year, I submitted a creative nonfiction piece to a contest and it didn’t win anything. It didn’t even make it to the finals. I know I had rushed the project, but I still felt it was a good piece of writing. After reading it again several months later, my rushing was evident. Instead of tossing the piece out, I rewrote it and entered it in another contest where it won first place. If I had let a little rejection get to me, I never would have realized the piece’s potential.
Potential. I love that word. It means capable of being or becoming. Use rejections to push you forward into your full potential.
To read more on how to turn rejection into success, read my post, How to use rejection to improve your craft.”
“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” — Leonardo DaVinci
In a recent Storylogue.com lesson, novelist and TV Writer/Producer Lowell Cauffiel mentions that many would-be novelists get to the two-thirds point in their novels and quit.
Author Dorothy Parker has been quoted as saying that she hates writing but loves having written.
Writing is hard–physically, mentally, and emotionally. We struggle to find just the right words and structure. We question our work and question our abilities. We question everything.
Cauffiel says this is good. He tells how author John Steinbeck kept a journal during the time he wrote his great American novel, “The Grapes of Wrath.”
Steinbeck constantly questioned himself and his abilities. Below are a few of his thoughts from his journal, Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath: Read more
As a business owner, I often meet other business owners or people who want to start a business. I’ll never forget one lady who told me she wanted to start a business but, over the years when I’d ask her how her business was going, she’d always reply that she was “researching” and “getting ready to start it soon.”
While I’m sure she learned a lot about her field, she never did start her business. She was always getting ready. A friend of mine calls this the “paper-clip-arranging” syndrome. It’s a syndrome that affects writers and other artists as well.
What is the real problem? FEAR. Read more
Do you have what it takes to be a Olympic-level writer?
As I watched the Olympics for the past two weeks, I was inspired by the athletes’ performances — even the ones who didn’t win medals. It made me think about how the principles of winning as an Olympic-caliber athlete can be applied to winning as a writer.
To rise as a writer to the level of an Olympic athlete, follow the same practices and mindset.
Practice daily. Olympic gold medal ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White started skating together at age 8 and practiced for 17 years before winning at Sochi. They practiced nearly every day and their story is the norm. To excel, you must put in the time, create a writing practice. Read more
The Internet and social media tools, including Facebook and Twitter are creating a new publishing and communication frontier for writers.
In this 12-minute TedTalk, author Andrew Fitzgerald explains how writers have more ways than ever to publish, experiment, and communicate with readers.