The Frustrated Writer’s Guide To Generating New and Amazing Ideas–All The Time

You’ve been there before.

You’ve taken your seat at your desk, you’re ready to write another amazing freelance article, blog post, or novel chapter, but then the worst happens.

Nothing’s coming to you.

You stare at the screen, brush your fingers across the computer keys, but still, nothing comes to you. You look at some outlines, maybe at the schedule you’ve set for yourself, but still… nothing comes. Whatever you planned to work on today has suddenly lost its excitement for you. You’re starting to get scared.

It’s happened again. You can’t come up with a single new idea. You’re stalled. You’re frustrated.

But don’t worry. I’m here to help.

The Frustrated Writer’s Guide To Generating New and Amazing Ideas

Today I’d like to share with you my tips on how to consistently generate new and amazing ideas. These tips have gotten me to Top Ten Blogger status and they’ve also helped me make HUGE progress with my novel. I get so many ideas nowadays that now my problem isn’t generating new ideas–it’s figuring out how to organize them all!

Okay, let’s start:

1. Journal On A Consistent Basis

My most helpful tool in writing (and in life) is a very simple one: it’s my journal.

Writing in a journal on a daily basis (especially in the early morning) will really help you clear your mind, sort through your problems, and uncover your most excellent ideas.

2. DON’T Carry A Notepad And A Pen With You All Day

It is often recommend that writers carry a small notebook and a pen with them all day so that they can jot down any new ideas that come to them.

I used to do that, but I don’t anymore. Here’s why:

In my experience, whenever I carry a notebook around me all day, the notebook is constantly getting in my way the whole time, which I find really annoying. Moreover, the notebook’s close proximity to me makes me feel a whole lot of pressure to churn out new ideas all the time  Also, one time, I lost one of my “idea notebooks” at a coffee shop and I was depressed about it for a week. I couldn’t believe that some of my private thoughts were out there for some stranger to find and read. How embarrassing! The ideas inside weren’t even fully fleshed out yet!

So, I have found that taking a notebook with you wherever you go can become a total nightmare. Instead, I recommend you keep that notebook at home in a private location that only you know about, and only you have access to. (This will ensure that you don’t accidentally misplace it.)

Now, you may still find yourself getting a whole bunch of ideas during the day without your notebook in hand, and that’s okay. In my experience, about 90% of those ideas will be no good anyway. (You are probably not going to pick these ideas up and run with them in any serious way.)

On the other hand, 10% of the ideas that come to you during the day will be great. They will be so great, in fact, that you will remember them by the time you get home. So, when you get home, write those 10% down as quickly as possible.  

In my experience, I have found that the most amazing ideas stick with me long enough, and are patient enough to wait for me to get home and write them down.

3. Go For A Walk

Go for a walk for about 15-30 minutes. Try not to focus on your thoughts during this walk, and, instead, take notice of the world around you.

This is called meditation. Meditation has become the second most essential tool in my writing and in my life. Deepak Chopra compares meditation to the act of washing a dirty rag until it is clean. The dirty rag is your mind. Now, imagine if you had a rag you hadn’t cleaned in years? It would probably be really dirty by now, wouldn’t it? You can start cleaning the dirty rag of your mind today by taking a quick 15-30 minute walk in the park.

4. Talk About An Opinion You Strongly Disagree With

You may think you’re the only one who disagrees with most people on a certain subject, but there are many who probably agree with you–they just don’t have the courage, or the ability, to articulate their opinion. You may be doing them a favor by being the first one to speak up.

5. Take A Snack Break

A delicious slice of pumpkin cheesecake helped me with this particular post. Trust me, it works.

6. Practice “Writing Judo”

Go with the flow. You know:  take the feeling you are feeling right now and make it art. Make it the solution instead of the problem. “Be like water, my friend,” as the famous Kong Fu artist, Bruce Lee, contends.

7. Write Down Your Dreams

Hey, if getting new ideas from dreams worked for writers like C. S. Lewis and Stephenie Meyer, why can’t it work for you?

Here’s what psychiatrist, Dr. Judith Orloff, suggests:

First, place a notebook and pen on your nightstand. Then, tell yourself that you want to remember your dreams before you go to bed. Finally, when you wake up in the morning, and while you are still in that liminal space between being asleep and being fully awake, write down what you remember from your dreams in your notebook.

I’ve tried this exercise before, and it works every time. Your dreams can reward you with some pretty gnarly ideas.

8. Realize That Idea Scarcity Is A Big Fat Myth

Read: Why Idea Scarcity Is A Big Fat Myth.

9. Stop Talking–And Listen

No. Don’t talk.

Shhh…

What do you hear? What do you see? What do you taste? What do you smell? What do you feel?

Write it down. Now.

10. Do Your Laundry While Fighting Green Aliens

Just kidding. That was just the first thing that came to my mind. Which reminds me: use the first thing that comes to your mind and see where it takes you. Sometimes it’s weird (like the above title), but more often than not, it’s right on the money.

11. Do Research On Something You Love

But DO NOT start with a Google or Wikipedia search. Instead, go directly to a bookstore or a library and just start reading the books that catch your eye and peak your interest. (It’s “Stumble Upon” old school-style. Oh yeahhhh.) You’ll find many amazing ideas by doing this.

12. Follow The Logic of Your Theme

My writing mentor Cherrie Moraga taught me this one:

For instance, if your novel’s theme is “death,” and if you’re looking for a new idea for a plot point, then you might want to have a death in your novel. Or you might have someone contract a disease. Or you might have someone witness a death taking place. (This is an annoyingly obvious example, but you get the point.)

Think about the theme of your story, and follow that theme until you reach its logical conclusion. Then see what new, amazing ideas are generated from this process.

13. Share An Important Lesson A Teacher Or A Mentor Has Taught You

You know, like what I did in #12.

14. Cure Your Writer’s Block…

…by reading this.

15. Read

Seek inspiration by reading the works of great writers, authors, or bloggers. Their work might spark some fresh new ideas in you.

16. Realize That Your Excuses Are Just A Block (You Really Can Write)

All those things you’re telling yourself like: “I’m sick, I’m tired, I’ve run out ideas, etc.” are really just excuses. You can write. Just becoming aware of the fact alone can really zap your frustration and bring you back to writing.

17. Trash All Ideas That You’re Not IN LOVE With

It is my strong belief that most writers don’t suffer from “writer’s drought” as much as they suffer from “writer’s flood.” Instead of lacking ideas, most writers are inundated with TOO MANY ideas. Some of them bad, some of them good, but most of them are mediocre.

Many people tell writers that they ought to keep all of their ideas in one big pile in their minds and never trash a single one. But this has made the inside of every writer’s head look like a bad episode of Hoarders.

Every writer has really amazing ideas, it’s just that these great ideas are being suffocated with “bad,” “okay,” or “just good” ideas. So hold on to those ideas that you’re madly in love with and then throw out the rest.

18. Listen To Music

One of my most popular articles, “What To Do When Your Best Isn’t Good Enough,” was inspired by a verse of a song I heard. I don’t remember the name of the song, but that doesn’t really matter–I got one amazing idea out of it.

19. Share A Personal Story

Before you do share a personal story, however, make sure that:

A. It’s a story that taught you an important lesson, and:

B. Others will benefit from reading your story

20. Play With A Puppy

You may not know this, but, I am the happy godfather (dogfather?) of two lovely little Chihuahuas. When I play with them, I am reminded that I should really chill out and not take life too seriously. These dogs remind me that unconditional love will keep me going no matter how stalled or frustrated I am in my writing, or in my life.

They can make me immeasurable happy just by lapping my cheek.

21. Review Old Work

If still no new ideas come to you, then I suggest revising and reposting old blog posts in the meantime.

Or, if your novel is the problem, maybe you can review an old short story, or dig up a draft of an old novel that you left a long time ago. Maybe you can find an idea that didn’t work well in those old pieces, but that will find new life in your current novel. You never know, until you start digging.

22. Share Information And Knowledge That You Know Will Be Helpful To Others

I took a class on sleep and dreams in college. I never thought I’d ever use the knowledge I learned in that class for someone other than for myself. But then, one day, I realized that my blog readers would benefit greatly from this knowledge, too.

Hence, my popular post: “Writers and Their Sleep.”

However obscure or random the information is–it doesn’t really matter. People love receiving valuable knowledge that they don’t already have, and that they can’t receive elsewhere.

23. Be You

What would you love to read? Write that.

24. Be Courageous

Go to a place in your writing that you were too afraid to visit yesterday. A place that makes you a bit uncomfortable, but not completely terrified. This is the place you need to visit today.

25. Be Creative

Invent new and amazing ways to come up with new and amazing ideas, then share them with the rest of us. 

Just like I did.

much “and hundreds of light bulbs just went off,”

Ollin

What are your tips for generating new and amazing ideas? Please share your wisdom with us in the comments below! 

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29 comments on “The Frustrated Writer’s Guide To Generating New and Amazing Ideas–All The Time

  1. Dwight Okita says:

    Hi Ollin, enjoyed your post. I don’t carry a notebook and pen, but I do carry a blank sheet of paper and two pens. The paper is useful for notes on thinks I plan to do that day, and also to capture ideas for novels. Since the paper fits in my pocket, I don’t feel pressure to write. But it gives me a way to capture good ideas. I bring two pens in case one runs out of ink!

    I just had my first novel published PROSPECT OF MY ARRIVAL. dwightland.homestead.com

    Dwight

    • Ollin says:

      That is a great compromise Dwight. I still worry that I might lose that though. And I have no idea how to carry pens without feeling as if they get in the way. Any pens I take out of my desk somehow get lost too. Well, whatever works for you! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Ollin,

    This is such an amazing list,so complete and so useful! I really like your thoughts on NOT carrying a notebook around for all the reasons you list,mostly risking the loss of it. That is such a common suggestion for writers,but I find jotting notes on any available writing surface, envelopes, napkins,etc to be just as useful then I don’t have to keep track of yet another item. Congratulations on getting those puppies.I certainly agree playing with a pet,taking a walk and getting a quick snack can do wonders for one’s creative juices.🙂

  3. Christina says:

    Great list:)

    I’d add go out with friends and laugh a lot:)

    Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

  4. JostWrite says:

    I am still trying to figure out how to generate new ideas to, but I think my problem is #17…too many ideas and then i get overwhelmed. I am in the process of just letting go of some ideas and some projects. They get in the way.

    Also, one thing I do or learned in a creative writing class I took was to write in the present moment. When I am staring at my computer experiencing writer’s block or not sure how to start I just start by what i am thinking and feeling even if it has nothing to do with what I wanted to write. I just write what i am thinking, feeling and struggling with …it helps to clear my mind so I can actually focus.

    Thanks again for another wonderful post. You are an inspiration.

  5. Ollin, I already do some of the things on your list, and I’m looking forward to adding more to my routine. Really good stuff! I think the old school Stumble Upon for research is excellent, good advice. Plus, it gets me away from my computer screen.🙂

    One way that I work through place I’m stuck in my writing (because sometimes I write for a while, then get stuck mid session) is to talk to another writing friend about my work. I had a writing buddy, Hilary, who is able to think at different angles for me, and who can immediately tell me what it working and what isn’t. Then, I know in part what’s blocking me and where to go from there. It’s complicated, writing and working with others on my writing, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.🙂

  6. Catherine Johnson says:

    Great post, Ollin! I have to have notepads close-ish because poems come at me at the most inconvenient moments and I get really frustrated if I can’t find a pen quick enough. But I certainly don’t carry one around for exactly that reason. On the ball with all these ideas, thanks!

  7. struggletovictory says:

    I use many of the tips you suggested including journaling, taking snack breaks, following the logic of a theme, researching (the bookstore is one of my favorite places), listening to music and reviewing old work. For me though, carrying a journal works well. I just keep it in my bag, and I put it back right away when I’m done making a note. If I don’t have it with me for some reason, I just make a note in my phone. Other idea-generating techniques that work for me are running, taking a shower (the ideas just flow like water), and watching a favorite movie I’ve seen many times already (LOTR, HP, Star Wars, Narnia, etc.). Another technique that works well for me is to buy a couple of new magazines. I go through them thoroughly and almost always come away with some new ideas. One of the techniques you suggested about trashing ideas I’m not in love with is one I need to work on. I like to keep all my ideas, and I get overwhelmed by them easily. What seems to be working best so far is to simply draw a single line through an idea I don’t like so that it’s fenced off for me but still visible should a related idea spring up at a later date. I also have tons of old journals nearby that I may go back to at some point should my idea well run dry. Also, a college professor of mine told the class once to simply write “I don’t know what to write.” over and over again until an idea comes. I don’t use it, but maybe it will work for someone. When I taught English classes, some of my students used that technique once in a while. Thanks for the new suggestions!

  8. Ollin ~ Nice post. I especially love the one about playing with puppies & reviewing old work (that’s something I rarely do). Other things that work well for me 1.) cooking / baking – this helps me to loosen my idea knots 2.) writing on a whiteboard – sometimes I need to see it, a phrase, idea or even just a word 3.) speaking out loud – almost like a “free flow” when writing, but somedays I just need to talk through a concept or thought pattern and this lets me hear whether something makes sense or rings true. Thanks!

  9. Great useful post, as always😀 I don’t carry pen and paper either, but if I have an idea that is urging me to note it down, I just type it in my cell phone and save as draft… hehe.
    Dreams are indeed a wonderful way of getting ideas! It has worked lots for me! and sometimes having imaginary friends too doesn’t hurt…🙂

    • Ollin says:

      True, I guess now that we live in a digital world maybe you don’t need a pen and notepad because you can just use your iPhone! Haha.

  10. […] Read the entire article: The Frustrated Writer’s Guide To Generating New and Amazing Ideas […]

  11. M.E. Anders says:

    Ollin – I definitely like your approach towards journaling. When I’m feeling challenged with a new project, I enjoy free writing about anything that grabs me at the moment.

    I also stopped obsession about a pen and paper with me at all times. If I have a great idea, it always comes back to me when I’m near computer or pen/paper.

    So many other great tips here, Ollin. Congrats on making the Top 10 Writer’s Blog this year!!!

    • Ollin says:

      Thanks! I won the title last year. But I’m still in trying to make the title for next year. So your nomination will definitely help. I’ll let you guys know how it goes. They usually announce the winners right before Christmas.

  12. Sunshine says:

    A great read, especially doing laundry and writing Judo…:)
    thanks, Ollin, I needed that!

  13. Mary says:

    Great list Ollin. Sorry, I am always a day or two late reading blogs. I am so happy to see you say not to carry a notebook. I have carried one for years and hardly ever written a thing in it, and it’s always a pain taking up space in my purse. I sometimes even feel badly about myself because I think I should be writing some notes in it. Funny how sometimes we need someone to tell us the obvious before we see it.
    I second #3–meditation. I am a great believer in mediation and I love the image of the dirty rag. I hadn’t heard that before.
    Things that help me come up with ideas when I’m stuck are 1) laying on my bed and thinking. (not to be confused with taking a nap. They are not the same thing. Although one can lead to the other) 2) folding laundry. I’ve never tried it with green aliens, but it works for me anyway. 3) taking a shower. I get most of my best ideas in the shower. I think it has to do with the fact I relax and don’t “think” about anything, so the ideas have room to float to the surface.
    Thanks!

  14. Interesting about the notebook. I don’t agree, but I like your thoughts on it. Especially the urge to feel a lot of pressure – that’s no fun.

    Much of what you say here is an invitation to get out of our heads and into our senses – le snack, the dogs, the walk. I completely agree.

    I think I’ll always consider you the dogfather now.🙂

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