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Idea questions are one of the most common questions writers receive and let’s face it, the real answer is never enough for anyone not in the industry.

Because the answer is Everywhere!

To many people that sounds like a cop-out, a way to shrug the question off and move on because you’re too tired to actually answer. The reality is, it is the shortened form of the answer, the TLDR, the I’ve-answered-this-question-a-million-times-already response.

The longer answer is still Everywhere, but it’s more than that too. It’s about the wanderings of your mind and the questions that arise from those wanderings. It’s about the what-ifs and then-thats and can-I’s that follow.

You go for a hike, following a river, letting your mind wander:

What if the river ran up this hill rather than down it?
Then that would mean the water would pull from the ocean and pool in the mountains.
Can I create a setting, a plot or a character who sails the frigid seas pooling at the tips of those mountains?

You misspell something, miss-say something, miss-hear something: What if it’s not a mistake?

You take things that are figurative and you make them literal: What if getting mud on your skin really was the end of the world?

You take your fears and exaggerate them. Twist your own beliefs to see what kind of character might stem. You look at everything and everyone around you and ask yourself: What are they thinking? Why is that there? What if I change this small detail, what would happen?

But what about when this doesn’t come naturally to you? After all, creativity is a muscle like anything else and if you haven’t been practicing it might feel stiff.

One way to push past that stiffness that leads to general, overused ideas and force yourself to think outside the box, is to do the List 10 prompt challenge. Number down on a piece of paper to 10 and then choose a word/prompt (or have one chosen for you). Then for every number, you write whatever comes to mind based on that prompt. You’ll notice as you work your way down that the ideas become harder to come up with. The easy ones, the ones that mimic things you’ve seen or read, are already taken and you’re forced to push harder and further in order to link something–anything–back to that prompt.

The rule of thumb is, you write your 10 different ideas and then scrap every single one of them. Then you come up with number 11. That way you’ve walked past all the easy ones, the ones everyone else has already thought of, the ones that sprang to mind quickly because you’d read that book or seen that movie. And the one you finally decide on will be one that took you longer to reach, made you work for it.

Another way to push past the stiffness is to experience more. Go out beyond your normal haunts. Read books you normally wouldn’t read. Cook food you normally wouldn’t eat. Talk to people you normally wouldn’t get a chance to speak to. And listen.

Always, always listen.

And that is how I come up with ideas.