Heading into Week 9 of 2023, this week’s focus is “Getting Ideas: A Writing Rorschach Test.” Successful writers have all been asked the question “Where do you get your ideas from?” Most writers are also asked at some point for tips on how to overcome writer’s block. Many of us have our own personal answers to these two questions, but some of us still are working on refining these answers.
Grant Faulkner confronts this second topic first – by stating he doesn’t believe writer’s block exists. “It’s too easy to end up building a twisted shrine” to the idea of writer’s block.
And it’s true there are always some creative minds that seem to overdramatically revel in the pain and suffering that can sometimes come along with being a creative genius. But on the other hand, not all writing is about pain and suffering; sometimes it’s just meant to entertain.
Plus, it’s a lot easier to write a story now with digital word processors, text-to-speech dictation software, pens that you don’t have to dip in ink, and paper readily accessible to the majority of humans.
Faulkner does admit that we can all have rough days where writing isn’t easy and new ideas aren’t ready at our fingertips. However, there are many ways to “actively jump-start your imagination” and Faulkner readily provides one of his favorites from author Ray Bradbury.
Ray Bradbury’s idea generation method is to create long lists of nouns. Once a list is made, create notes, journals, or short poems about associations you have for each noun. Ask yourself why that word came to mind rather than a different word. Find the patterns, themes, and connections between your words. Faulkner calls this “[reading] the tea leaves for your story” (49).
Finally getting around to the title, Faulkner compares this exercise to a Rorschach test. “Follow the surprising feather of a memory” and find the meaning in seeming nothingness. Faulkner also suggests writing letters from different POVs (real or fake) to explore story ideas or characters, or to look at pictures or art and create stories based on the visuals.
There are many different exercises that can generate ideas, so if you ever find yourself blocked, there are a plethora of ways to escape that feeling. Don’t try just one. Try anything and everything. Some of it might not work for you this time, but just the process of trying these exercises is likely to get you back into the habit of writing and being creative. Which means you will have successfully banished the writer’s block!
This week’s homework is to attempt the Bradbury Noun List for idea generation.
“Conjure a story. Just as Bradbury did, brainstorm nouns, ‘alert your secret self,’ write any old word that wants to jump out of your nerves onto the page, and then look for a pattern or motif between the nouns. Did you find a story line that might feed into your novel, or an entirely new story?” ~Faulkner, 51
Although, I have tried something similar to this before, this particular variation was new to me.
So here it goes:
Desert, Sand, Ruins, Gold, Night-Blooming Flower (find the name of it), Coolness, Army, Soldiers, Magic, War, Ancient,
Reclaim – verb – doesn’t count
This is not one of my current WIPs, but this does seem to be tied to one or two of the potential story settings I have floating around in my head. One of the stories is inspired by the Mummy movies, but the protagonist is someone who protects the ruins of an ancient civilization rather than raiding it.
Here’s another list, just for fun:
Whale, Killer Whale (Orca), Crustacean, Copper, Volcanic vents, Tsunami, Flotsam and jetsam, Sun flare, Magnetic field, Steampunk, Zeppelin
On another document, I went ahead and tracked my word associations, and the only one that I cannot make fit is the Crustacean. But now I have a shiny new idea that I will be attempting not to pay too much attention to for the short term while I finish my current WIPs.
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