November 17, 2016 by Ray Yanek
“Everybody walks past a 1000 story ideas everyday. The good writers are the one’s that see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.”
— Orson Scott Card
I used to hate that quote. Despised it– because, well, I was one of those people who rarely saw those ideas and it made me feel bad.
But, thanks to an article on the internet that I can no longer find and that was written by a guy whose name I totally can’t remember, I’m beginning to notice more and more ideas.
The article I read put forth the idea that everyone should try to come up with 10 new ideas everyday, whether you were a writer, a business owner, a carpenter, whatever, just 10 ideas about your business. The article gave a bunch of numbers concerning how many ideas 10 a day could lead to in a year and, if you played the percentages, at least some of those ideas had to be good. But I won’t bore you with those numbers.
I was intrigued, so I thought I would it give it a try.
And I’m glad I did. Not only did trying to collect 10 story ideas a day give me a stable of ideas to fall back upon during those lean times, I found a couple of other benefits.
- The idea behind the project is to write down any ideas–no matter how silly or ridiculous. In fact, it’s especially important to get those ridiculous ones out of your brain so they don’t block the flow of creativity. And it works a lot of times. I’ve struggled at times to get the ideas, but then as soon as I put one down–no matter how ridiculous– the other ideas naturally start to follow.
- I’ve rarely been the type to get full-fledged story ideas while scrubbing in the shower. I have to be connected to the page and I have to seek those ideas out. Looking for all these ideas is an active pursuit and what I’m finding is that I’m noticing more of those every-day things I’ve taken for granted–the wrap-around porch at the end of the block, timbers falling from dilapidated barns in the country, etc. This process has (buzz-words coming…) helped me to literally become more aware, more present. And I needed that.
- The awareness that his activity has inspired isn’t just good for generating ideas, but also in stocking the pantry with those little details that you can go to in the cold wintertime of drafting. I’m noticing and stocking away (I hope) those details that will bubble up from the sub-conscious and help make the stories more life-like and realistic.
- And in keeping with the idea of awareness, when I’m actively observing, actively pursuing ideas and looking for grains scattered in the shadows, I’m getting out of myself. I’m paying more attention. I can’t help but think about David Foster Wallace’s commencement address that I wrote about some time ago, specifically his idea that we could seriously lower our stress levels if he didn’t believe ourselves to be the center of the universe and tried to see the other perspective. The example he gave was that instead of believing that the guy that cut you off on the freeway is just some asshole, imagine instead that his sick child is on the seat next to him and he has to get him to the emergency room now. All writers, do this I suppose, but it was nice to be reminded just how many story ideas can come, and come quickly from looking at the world in this manner.
I could go on I suppose, but I imagine that the experience will be different for anyone who tries it. But trying it is the key. Do it for two weeks and then how much your perception of your surrounding changes. Notice how finding those ideas will become a habit.
To be honest, I have found that coming up with 10 ideas, everyday is really hard. Lately, and maybe because Card’s quote, I’ve been satisfied coming up with 5 or 6 ideas a day.
Trust me, give this a try.