This year I’m taking a creative writing class titled “Researching and Writing a Novel.”  Sounded like exactly the good kick-in-the-pants I needed.

Our class spent first two weeks coming up with ideas for our novels.  Some people had already written the first couple chapters of their novels.  Other’s had a fairly well formed idea that just needed a little deep tissue massage to work out the kinks, and still other hadn’t a clue. I was nervous enough about my own abilities to come up with good story ideas back in the spring when I signed up for the class, so I spent most of my summer researching and working on one.  In the end, one session of in-class work-shopping was enough to tell me that my brilliant idea was not as brilliant as I’d thought.

Scrapping an entire summer’s worth of work, I went back to the drawing boards and spent the next two weeks coming up with a better idea.

In six years of writing, what I’ve found about this tormenting stage of the writing process–coming up with ideas –is that it doesn’t have to be… tormenting, that is.  With a little practice, it can become second nature.

Let me explain. Although I ended up rejecting that idea (putting it away in a drawer, actually – good ideas are still good even if they don’t suit at the time of their conception), I found that that summer had put me in planning mode.  Like a young basketball player who practices dribbling every day until it becomes as natural as walking (and from there he can add tricks and speed and what have you), actively practicing coming up with ideas, even ones that end up in drawers, trains the brain to recognize good ideas even you’re not aware that you’re searching for them.

So lesson #1:  Practice.  And practice a lot.  Get in the habit of looking at the world through a story-teller’s lenses.  Consider news stories, personal experiences, and observations of the world and prod them like a biologist would an amoeba.  Look at them from every angle and ask what-if questions until you have a story.  And if you can think of no story worth telling about that particular amoeba, move on to the next one.

In my next entry, I’ll be going into a bit more detail about ways we practice coming up with ideas.