For many writers, the problem is in fact too many ideas, more than they would ever have time to write. And the resulting task is to winnow the set of possible ideas down to the ones which seem most promising and work with them.
However, there are times when the idea pool can feel a bit dry. What can you do to try to get your creativity flowing when you've hit a situation like this? Here are four ideas for priming the idea pump and getting your writing flowing again.
- Start with a character. Maybe it's someone you've observed in your daily life, maybe it's a composite of multiple people, maybe it's even someone completely from your imagination. Describe them, think about what sort of problems they might experience and what sort of obstacles they might need to overcome in order to resolve those problems. Develop a story from that beginning.
- Start with a title. Dean Wesley Smith wrote literally dozens of stories in 2011, all of which started from a title. His usual method was to take two other titles and splice them together in some way. One example is "The Wages of the Moment" which presumably is spliced together from titles such as "The Wages of Fear" and "The Heat of the Moment." Once you've put together your title, think about what that might suggest and where it might lead a story. Your story may end up going in other directions and be better off in the end with a new title -- that's fine! The point isn't so much to keep the title as it is to help you start thinking about a possible set of ideas. Putting together two different, possibly even dissonant, ideas in the way that Smith describes might work well to get things flowing.
- Start from a picture. Late last year I briefly had a series on my blog called Call and Response Flash Fiction. The second prompt in that series (a photograph of a rose in the snow) led to me writing two stories. One ran on my blog and got some very nice reader comments. The other, which took me a little while to really get the way I liked it, is on the market. It hasn't sold yet, but it's nearly been accepted by a couple of prestigious venues. If you're going to start from a picture, look for something which is a bit unusual in some way. Then you can ask yourself how that unusual thing came to occur.
- Finally, you can look for completely external sources of ideas. There are many publications which run themed issues. These themes can range from the very general ("War", "Love") to the very specific ("Mystery stories set in the context of the Harlem Renaissance"). A list of current calls for submissions around various themes is available at Duotrope. At any given time you're apt to find well over 100 such prompts/themes in the fiction listings on that site. If that doesn't work for you, you could try searching Google for lists of writing prompts.