NaNoPrepMo: Finding an Idea

One of the most important aspects of a story is the concept or idea behind it. After all, without an idea, you really can’t get much on paper. However, finding a quality idea to develop and write during NaNoWriMo is harder said than done. People often complain of writer’s block or an inability to come up with inspiration for writing material. Sometimes, a writer’s well of ideas can just dry up like a well during a drought. Other times, the ideas just keep on flowing, like a steadily flowing faucet gushing water.

This post is especially for those people who are staring at the blinking cursor on their screen right now or the blank page in front them with so many lines just waiting to be filled up and no inspiration.  I’ll give you a couple of methods that you can use to find a brimming well of ideas.

When You Just Can’t Come Up With an Idea

Have you ever tried to look for something to no avail, but then found it a few weeks later when you weren’t looking for it? Well, that’s a lot like looking for an idea.  Oftentimes, the best way to look for an idea is to do nothing.That’s right. Nothing. Sometimes, the best ideas come when you are doing something ordinary like washing the dishes, going for a walk (or in my case, a run), or even just lying in bed, trying to fall asleep. These are the times when your subconscious, which has been hard at work instantly gives you an idea. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work. When you’re are at your wit’s end, there are some methodical systems of coming up with ideas that you can use.

Ask “What If?”

So many of my ideas stem from a series of “what if” questions. The question “what if?” can lead to so many ideas. It lets your imagination run wild and come up with so many streams of thought, uncensored and free. Better yet, they can lead to more “what if” questions, and thus, more ideas and inspiration.

Start With a Character

My plot ideas often start with ideas for characters because I’ve always had a knack for coming up with unique characters before I create a story for them. At one point, I thought that was the wrong way to go about writing a story. However, I soon learned there really is no “write” (haha, see what I did there?), or wrong way to write a story. In fact, many authors come up with the characters first or just write character driven novels in general. Try to come up with a unique character who has a weird quirk, hobby or occupation, or is in an interesting situation. Then, see where your story runs from there.

If your well has run dry and you really can’t think of a character, go on Pinterest/Google Images/Humans of New York/other blogs to find pictures of interesting people. Try to think of the story behind these people? What are their personality traits? What do they like to do in their free time? What do they want the most? What is their greatest fear? What is their backstory? Then, when you have a strong main character, think of a plot that would make for a wonderful character arc. Now you have an idea.

Just Write

In order to do this exercise, you have to be willing to just write, whether you think you have writer’s block or not. You really may think that you have writer’s block, and you probably do, but trust me, writer’s block is a thing that is mostly in your head. You can push through it. Even though it may seem that your brain is dried of inspiration, your brain will never be empty. You’re always going to be thinking about something. So the next time you sit down to write just reach into your brain and pick a thought, any thought. No matter how silly or useless you think it is, just write it down. Then keep writing stream-of-consciousness style. You might be surprised at what you find.

Random Titles and Lines

Just writing stream-of-consciousness without censoring yourself can really do wonders. However, I understand that sometimes you need that extra push. When you’re in need of that, it’s useful to call up some random titles or lines. In your writer’s notebook or on your computer, keep a running list of random intriguing titles or sentences that pop into your mind. You can also pull sentences from books as a starting off point. Then, when you are devoid of inspiration, pull out one of the random titles or lines and just write about whatever comes to mind. You may be surprised at what you write, and you may find that writing triggers some gears in your brains, giving you inspiration for a story idea.

Through Your Senses

The final technique that I have for you is to just immerse yourself in the world around you. The world around you is full of sensory detail, from the smells that waft up to you from your kitchen, to the sights that meet you outside or in intriguing writing prompt pictures, to the sounds of the outdoors, to the taste of your favorite dessert to the feel of your soft fuzzy slippers. Immerse yourself in your senses. Take note of what you notice and really feel it. Don’t just quickly pass it over; use it for inspiration. Write vividly about the little things in life that make you happy or unhappy. Write about what you see, feel, taste, hear and smell. You just might come up with a story idea, but even if you don’t, at least you practiced writing vivid imagery.

Finally, Keep a Running Idea List

In your notebook or on your computer, keep a list of all of the ideas that you think of. Write down everything, no matter how silly or underdeveloped it might sound. Later, when you choose an idea to focus on, you can flesh out the ideas more. Or you can even combine a bunch of different ideas to form one better developed idea. No matter what you choose to do, write down all of your ideas. Trust me: you never know when an idea will come in handy.

I suggest that you do one of these exercises to help you come up with an idea. Which exercise appeals to you the most? Have you done any of them before? If you came up with an idea, feel free to share it in the comments section.



6 thoughts on “NaNoPrepMo: Finding an Idea

  1. This post is spot on, Ana! Seriously, I would have said everything you have. Especially the “what if?” thing — I think this is the one of the best ways to create storylines for writers or to improve upon them. I don’t usually have that much of a problem with coming up with a storyline, though I usually find that I hit issues when I’m rewriting/editing then I go back to the whole “what if” thing and it helps me to clear up storylines I was unsure about — or even create new ones. “Just Write” is very important during NaNoWriMo, especially, because of the time limit on the competition. In essence, it doesn’t matter if it’s flawed or a mess, as it can be fixed later. “Random Titles and Lines” is also REALLY helpful for me; usually, before NaNo especially, I’ll have a few key lines in mind that I want to use some time during writing the first draft. I’ll use them when I’m unsure of what to write next, and the rest of the story will come from that. 🙂

    Great post!


    1. Thanks so much! I don’t have much problem with storylines either, but asking “what if?” always helps me to create new plot twists when I am stuck. Exactly! NaNoWriMo is all about discarding the thought of perfection. The whole point is to get words down so you can actually fix them. That’s something that I had a problem with before, but NaNoWriMo has helped me to overcome that. Usually random lines just help me spark ideas, but I never thought of using that technique to further develop a plot. That’s a good idea.


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