Story writing ideas: 5 hacks to beat the blank page forever
The lies we tell ourselves every day are deep-seated.
Thank you, society.
Myths and misconceptions about ideas and creativity are so deeply rooted in our thinking that we barely recognize them anymore.
“I’m not a creative person.” – as if Hemingway was born with pen and paper.
“I just can’t come up with a good idea.” – as if it’s supposed to drop from the sky, and sorry: ideas are just not on the forecast today.
Waiting for a story idea to randomly hit you is like hoping to solve a mathematical problem by taking a Tango dance class.
A mystical magic fog surrounds the notions about great story ideas, as if only “chosen” people are blessed with them.
Ironically, it’s never you. It’s the Hemingways and Tolstoys and J.K. Rowlings.
And this is a treacherous lie.
What if you could train your brain to come up with great story ideas every single day? What if you’d never have to fear the blank page again?
Throw away all of your misconceptions. Clear the stinky fog around story ideas. These five scientific hacks will teach you the process of coming up with great writing. They will show you how you can become the master of your author’s journey, not a victim of society’s myths.
Ready to take your story writing ideas to the next level?
1. Story writing ideas need a mental inventory
“Instead of working systematically at the job of gathering raw material we sit around hoping for inspiration to strike us.” A Technique for Producing Ideas, James Webb Young
The first step to understanding the idea process is a mental pool of information to draw from.
You need a library of content ranging from pottery classes, shark attacks to conspiracy theories.
An “idea shop” – as author R.L. Stine calls it – is a collection of your experiences, knowledge, and memories. James Patterson recommends “having a vast universe of stimulation”.
Your mental inventory is a habit developed through effort. But it’s also an exciting lifestyle to live!
Forget the crazy writer sitting in his dungeon, typing words, days on end until his fingers bleed. A true storyteller equally spends time in the world – exploring places, ideas, people and crafts.
Now you have an excuse to binge your favorite TV shows, travel the world, try exotic dishes and stare at people in the coffee shop – all for the sake of becoming a better storyteller.
It’s natural to think about yourself and your little worries and problems when you wonder about your daily life. Fight this instinct. Look, listen, become a sponge soaking in everything around you.
Your ideas will come from the places you least expect it:
A couple arguing at the airport line. A child asking his mother a peculiar question while waiting for the bus. The slogan on a street poster. A smell triggering a childhood memory.
Targeted research falls into the same category. If you have a rough idea of what you want to write about, widen your horizon with books on that topic, travel places, watch films and do online research.
Every morning, before you leave the house, get into the mindset of filling your mental inventory with new information.
2. Synthesia: story writing ideas through combination
A “new” idea is nothing but an innovative combination of old elements.
Step two is what scientists call Synthesia: an original combination of things you know. Now you see why you need such a vast library of information.
In a presentation, neuroscientist Dr. Vilayanur S. (V.S.) Ramachandran explores how creative individuals associate particular numbers and/or letters with colors (referred to as color-graphemic synesthesia).
“Synesthesia is eight times more common in artists, poets, and novelists. Why would this be the case? This is the basis for creativity – linking seemingly unrelated ideas, concepts, or thoughts.”
Filmmaker Kirby Ferguson urges people to let go of this romanticized idea of “originality.” Ideas don’t come out of thin air; your subconscious is processing all these influences from memories, education, and experiences.
Designer Andrew Vucko, argues: “Originality comes from making connections. Seeing patterns where others see chaos. Taking old ideas and elevating them to new perspectives.”
The movie Alien was pitched as „Jaws in space“. „District 13“ combines elements of documentary filmmaking with the bizarre idea of aliens living as refugees in South Africa.
Now that you’ve filled your mental inventory, make Synthesia work for you.
Practice it by taking a common storyline and giving the idea a completely new twist, combining it with other elements that might even seem bizarre.
Exercise Synthesia with short stories and don’t be content with the first thing you come up with.
3. Three effective ways to train your story writing idea muscles
#1 Trick your subconscious in the morning
Mornings are when our subconscious is the most active. This is your most productive time for creative output and there are effective exercises to trick your brain into subconscious originality.
One is a simple method suggested by James Scott Bell: Write 350 words first thing in the morning.
Another is the morning pages — three pages of free writing without censoring yourself.
Writers and creatives swear upon those methods to be not only therapeutical but also hidden goldmines for ideas.
#2 Creativity through stress
Time pressure can inspire people to come up with genius ideas. Why? Because it silences your greatest enemy — the inner critic.
Other forms of stress accomplish that as well: juggling multiple projects, working on tight deadlines, setbacks, and failures. Stress, in small doses, motivates your brain towards specific goals.
“If people and companies feel that they have a real deadline, they understand it, they buy into it,” Amabile wrote in a Forbes article. “They understand the importance of what they’re doing, and the importance of doing it fast — and if they’re protected … so they can focus, they’re much more likely to be creative.”
As a writer, you need to create this form of stress for yourself. It’s often easier if you can hold yourself accountable with a deadline: to your editor, your street team, your readers. Take your own deadlines very seriously.
Putting on two hats of the creative employee and your own draconic CEO can be helpful — even at the danger of schizophrenia.
Be careful with stress though. Know the fine line between positive pressure and burnout. There can be a lot of pressure for writers out there – financially, productively, always measuring up with Amazon algorithms, marketing strategies and comparisonitis.
Never lose sight of why you wanted to be a writer in the first place — telling great stories and having creative freedom.
#3 20 bad ideas
Drop your standards and think of 20 bad ideas
Studies at MIT and the University of California Davis have shown that the sheer volume of ideas inevitably produces good ones along with the bad.
Seth Godin wrote about the importance of producing a lot of bad ideas. Entrepreneurs, writers and musicians all fail far more often than they succeed, but they fail less than those who have no ideas at all.
„Someone asked me where I get all my good ideas, explaining that it takes him a month or two to come up with one and I seem to have more than that. I asked him how many bad ideas he has every month. He paused and said, “none.”“
Don‘t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid of bad ideas. Gold is filtered from large amounts of sand.
Use these exercises to train your idea muscles daily, whether you do morning pages, write down 20 bad ideas or put yourself on tight deadlines.
This way, ideas will come to you with the snip of a finger.
4. Instant story writing ideas by triggering habits
Your creativity is a shy animal.
It always peaks out to check for a safe environment before it fully emerges. This is why you need to create a safe haven for your creative child to play.
If you set time aside regularly, it will signal to your brain that it’s safe to work on creative ideas. Triggers like a particular space, a daily cup of coffee or other repetitions set a habit loop in motion. According to research, our creativity is affected even by the temperature and noise around us.
What is the best time to set aside for ideas?
Scientist Mirjam Muench compared two groups of people, one being exposed to daylight, the other to artificial light over the course of several workdays.
“Compared to the afternoon, people who had DL (Daylight) were significantly more alert at the beginning of the evening, and subjects who were exposed to AL (Artificial light) were significantly sleepier at the end of the evening.”
Too much artificial light or poor lighting conditions led to “sleepiness” and a significant drop in cortisol levels, alas more stress and destabilized energy levels.
Being creative in the early morning has not only proven beneficial for authors and artists but is scientifically more sustainable and productive.
“I’m not a morning person.,” you might argue.
But this is only a limitation you set for yourself in your mind.
It’s a habit. And habits can be altered.
If you train your brain to work in the morning, while the birds sing with the first sun rays and the house is quiet – no phone buzzing, no mailman ringing the doorbell, no kids jumping all over you – you will catch the magic of the early fairies and it will provide you with ideas made out of gold dust.
5. Story writing ideas through distraction
While working in the patent office, Einstein experienced the most successful years of his career. He published three papers that would change the course of science for generations to come.
Why do the best ideas pop up in our minds during random activities like showering or exercising – or working at a patent office?
Alice Flaherty, one of the most renowned neuroscientists researching creativity, says the answer is: dopamine. The more dopamine is released, the more creative we are.
“People vary in terms of their level of creative drive according to the activity of the dopamine pathways of the limbic system.”
All activities that make us feel great and relaxed provide the brain with an increased dopamine flow. But that’s not all there is.
Another crucial factor is a distraction, says Harvard researcher Carson:
“In other words, a distraction may provide the break you need to disengage from a fixation on the ineffective solution.”
This requires thinking long and hard about a problem first. Distraction then turns on the “incubation period”, as scientists call it: Your conscious mind can let go of those problems for a while and make your subconscious work.
So while you go about your day, it will bring back unexpected solutions into the conscious mind that feel like the kiss of a muse.
That’s what happened to Einstein. And that’s what will happen to you if you stop obsessing about the ideas and let them go after an intense period of research and pondering.
Great story writing ideas do not depend on the favor of the creativity gods. They don’t come by chance.
This is great news.
It means that you can implement the best practices above in your daily life that will nurture your author’s journey with constant ideas. No more dread of the blank page, which essentially is a blank mind. No more writer’s block.