Finding Ideas for Writing: My Daily Ritual

Finding the perfect idea is the holy grail for every writer. It’s the hope for a magical gift of fame and prosperity bestowed upon a lucky few by a fickle muse. Millions of aspiring authors have thought “if only I could find the perfect idea, I, too, could be wealthy and famous.”

It’s complete bull, of course, but the belief persists. Tomes have been written (and will forever be written) and sold on the best ways to find million-dollar ideas. Writers line up to pay for the snake oil, willing participants in the farce. I admit guilty participation over the years, too.

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Are You Saying Something or Just Spewing Words?

About a week ago I committed to writing at least 365 pieces of meaningful content for this site by the beginning of 2019. One article per day, where at least one hundred of the articles have more than five hundred words (which sounds loftier than it is – I can’t seem to write a grocery list with fewer than five hundred words).

To bolster my resolve to accomplish my production goal I joined a Facebook group called My500Words. The commitment is simple. Five hundred words, every day. No excuses.
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Happy New Year! Now Go Set Some Goals

With 2018 upon us I feel compelled to offer a message of goodwill and encouragement for the new year.  It’s customary as well as true.  I sincerely hope everyone accomplishes their goals and lives the life they want to live.  The truth, however, is that most people will not accomplish their goals – or much of anything else – in 2018.  This is because they do not have any goals to accomplish nor a plan with which to accomplish them!
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5 Ways to Find Excellent Writing Ideas for Science Fiction

One of the most difficult tasks we writers face is continually coming up with good ideas for our work.  I wonder how many hours I’ve spent over the years, my mind blank, staring at an empty screen or page.  This is one of the universal experiences all writers share, no matter the genre of their work.

The times I’ve been at a loss for an idea and turned to articles such as this one for some inspiration did not end well.  All I found were some vague guides that really didn’t provide any true insight or help generate a good idea.  They offered empty advice like “pose a what if question” and “pick two random things and compare and contrast them.”  The problem with the vague advice is that I was still the one who had to come up with the details.  I wanted some help with those!  I want specifics, damn it!

This article is the first in a series of articles that will provide the blocked writer some concrete, genre-specific methods to develop a good idea for their writing.  Today’s genre: Science Fiction.

Science fiction is one of my favorite genres.  There’s something about a good space story that has always made my imagination run wild.  I know not all sci-fi deals in space stories, but my favorites certainly do! Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, and Michael Z. Williamson are my favorite authors in the genre, though I’ll try anyone’s work at least once.

If you’re itching to write the next great space novel, here are five ways to help you find some excellent ideas for your science fiction.

  1. The easiest way to get your mind thinking about all the possibilities for a good space story is to talk to a bona fide rocket scientist (or as close as you can get to a real one).  Unfortunately, most of us do not personally know any real rocket scientists.  Luckily, you do not need to know the people in order to talk to them.  Get your Google on and find forums where people talk about space topics.  UFO reality sites are good sources of space-based conversation, astronomy forums have a ready supply of space geeks to trigger sparks in your imagination, and Reddit has numerous conversations about every kind of space tech there is.  The point is that when you participate in discussions on the topic, your brain will start to get creative with the subject matter.  So get social with people who are interested in spacey subjects and the ideas will follow;
  2. First, focus on humanity’s (or your protagonist’s) downfall and then reverse-engineer your science fiction idea. In other words, figure out what horrid thing will befall humanity in your story, or what frailty of the human condition will be exploited in your story, and then figure out what could cause it. Here’s an example. Imagine you want to write a story about the near global extinction of humanity and the survivor’s fight to live.  Think “War of the Worlds,” only that’s been done to death.  What else could bring about the end of mankind?  Rogue virus (I Am Legend)?  What about a parasitic alien species that came to Earth to use humans to replicate themselves (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or Puppetmasters)?  Or maybe an alien race that wants to use humanity as biological Energizer batteries (The Matrix)?  Get the idea?
  3. I hate to admit it, but not all science fiction stories are space stories. Therefore I must also recommend that you talk to various professionals about some of the worst things they can conjure from their fields.  A good example would be to talk to an emergency room physician (or even better, a nurse or paramedic – they typically see and do more than the doctors and have better stories).  Sit down with one over a cup of coffee and have them tell you their horror stories from the graveyard shift.  Your imagination will be kicked into high gear after hearing what they deal with on a normal day at work!  I guarantee you will hear things that you will not be able to un-hear – which is awesome for someone trying to come up with a good sci-fi story idea.  And if you think medical-based stories cannot make good sci-fi reading material, try any one of Robin Cook’s many novels;
  4. Use a story idea that you like and adapt it to science fiction.  This is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to come up with a good idea for any genre, not just science fiction.  It’s also the most often used method.  As an example, consider the movie Titanic.  Two young people, coming together against all odds only to lose each other in a tragic shipwreck. Now put it on a spaceship and salt a few malevolent aliens into the mix. You can call it Titania (that’s the name of the spaceship, of course). Actually, you can’t. I just copyrighted it by publishing it here!
  5. If all else fails, break out your history book.  Believe it or not, human history is the source for all our best story ideas.  Look at the wars, the continental conquests, the plagues, the people and personalities involved.  A history of the twentieth century is nothing short of a primer on science fiction story adaptation.  Here’s an example: Ebola Zaire.  A virus that has a kill rate greater than eighty percent is tailor-made for a good sci-fi tale.  Throw in some malevolent aliens bent on conquering good old planet Earth for the exploitation of its plentiful resources and you have yourself a great story.  Put the two together and you’ll have a movie franchise (Independence Day)!

It is highly unlikely that you will find your next great idea via a random word generator website, or an emailed writing prompt.  Try these techniques instead!  Remember that your goal is to be a great storyteller.  Storytelling is a social experience that humanity has shared since we were living in caves and picking lice out of each others’ hair. Get out of your house and talk to people, or push your comfort zone out a bit and join some forums to get your sci-fi geek on and get social with people who love to talk about the same stuff you love.  You’ll be amazed at how many ideas you can come up with from the conversations you can have with others.  I hope this post helps you find and write the next great sci-fi novel.  And if you have some thoughts on how to come up with good sci-fi ideas, please leave them in the comments for everyone to use!

How Much to Invest in Your Own Writing Business?

I am faced with a curious dilemma this evening.  My son, as noted in a previous article, wants to start a business. This business requires a lot of video production. In today’s age of easy computing, it’s not a technically demanding requirement, provided you have the requisite technology on hand! I, however,  do not.

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What Is The Value of One Human Voice in a Sea of Voices?

I’ve often wondered what value a single human voice has in today’s age of instant information. I wonder if I will make a dent in the world at all simply because the task of getting my message in front of a large number of people seems so impossible given the number of other people trying to do the same thing. If I do happen to get my words in front of the masses, will it make any difference? Continue reading “What Is The Value of One Human Voice in a Sea of Voices?”

How Long Does It Take To Build An Audience?

One of the most important things we want to do as writers is build our audience. Having someone actually read what we write is the goal, is it not? We want our thoughts to change lives, impact the world, and make a difference. An audience is also the path to monetary reward. Having readers is absolutely critical if we want to get paid. For these reasons, it’s safe to say that building a large audience is as important a goal as writing itself.

Based on my Google-fu, one of the most sought-after bits of information about how to build an audience is “how long does it take.” The response depends completely on who you ask. Continue reading “How Long Does It Take To Build An Audience?”

The Power of Rituals for Your Writing

Rituals have existed since the dawn of mankind for one reason.  They work. Work for what, you ask?  Rituals are used to reinforce good (and bad) behaviors for individuals and groups.  Examples include the obvious, like church rituals.  Holy Communion, the marriage ceremony, and baptism are all rituals.  Other rituals are not so obvious, like how we get ready for a date, how you celebrate birthdays, and what you do on New Year’s Eve.  While not as elaborate as the church rituals, they are every bit as potent in terms of how they affect the individual. Continue reading “The Power of Rituals for Your Writing”

The Fear of Wasting Your Time Writing

It’s easy to commit to being a writer.  It’s a simple thing to make any commitment, for that matter.  People make commitments every day, but they rarely honor them.  Think of the countless commitments made on New Year’s Eve each year.  I’ll go to the gym five times each week.  I’ll eat nothing but healthy food.  I’ll ride my bike to and from work every day.  I’ll save ten percent of my salary every year.  You know all about the hollow commitments that are made but never met.  You’ve made a few yourself.  So have I. Continue reading “The Fear of Wasting Your Time Writing”

Why Do I Want to Write?

“Why do I want to write.” I suspect the question has plagued most writers to a greater or lesser degree throughout their careers. It’s probably the reason so many people fail to ever make a serious attempt at writing. Combined with the fear of publishing my words, it is likely the most significant impediment to writing I have had to overcome. The lack of an answer to the question has killed my ambition more times than I care to remember. Continue reading “Why Do I Want to Write?”