Writing advice

Idea Farming

I recently stumbled upon an article on www.writing.com that introduced me to the concept of “idea farming.” (What a cool concept!) It is the idea that we writers can collect and nurture new ideas just like a farmer does her crops.

Probably the most common question published writers have to answer is where do you get your ideas? Many authors (including myself) don’t really know. Or don’t remember. The last novel I published, Deception Island, had been a project I worked on for three years before I considered it finished. I know the idea came from somewhere, I just can’t remember.

The problem is that ideas are everywhere. In a sense, the universe is made of ideas. A good writer can find the germ of a novel or short story in an overheard conversation at the grocer’s, in a television show, the news, or something she saw as she walked the dog around the neighborhood. Most of the writers I’m familiar with don’t really lack ideas (they might disagree with this); they lack good ideas; or they lack the next idea.

For instance, I am currently working on a novel-length project and am approximately halfway through a first draft. Most of my energy is concentrated now on ideas that revolve around the problems and situations in that narrative. I’m not really actively looking for short story and poetry ideas. I’m not even really looking for ideas for the next novel.

Which, of course, sets me up for the creative hangover that follows the completion of a major project like a novel. The period I wander around wondering what to do until I find something new to work on.

The solution, is idea farming: to be constantly gathering and nurturing new ideas as a force of habit, so we don’t have to face a hangover following the completion of a work. So that at any given time, we will have a resource of ideas ready to go.

Keep an Idea Journal

This is an easily accessible list or database of all the ideas you have come up with. You can organize them by types, if you’re really organized (story concepts, plot twists, character revelations, etc.) Or you can simply make a list. The important thing is to create a single place to keep all your ideas.

And no, you cannot keep them all in your head with any level of security. How many ideas have we forgotten over the years?

Come up with 3-5 new ideas every day.

They do not have to be earth-shattering fantastic ideas. They just have to be ideas. It does not matter whether they are good, bad, or mediocre. The object here is to simply think of and write down three to five ideas every day and by doing so, get your mind into the habit of noticing them. They could even be silly. For instance, today I thought of the name of a female comic book villain: Anna Fillaxis. It’s silly, but it’s an idea. And nobody has to see your idea journal but you. So be silly. Who cares?

Unfortunately, no matter how successful or famous you are, every idea a writer comes up with is not going to be a good one. Some are good, some mediocre, and some will be downright horrible. Where idea farming comes in is the writer doesn’t avoid, or discard bad ideas out-of-hand, but like a farmers allows everything to grow as it will, then, at harvest, separates out the best.

The idea farmer says that the key to coming up with good ideas is to come up with a lot of ideas.

To do that, we need to train our minds to notice them, even when we’re consciously busy with other things. Write them down. Memorize them, then transfer them into your idea journal. If you can consistently do this, in a month, you will have a list of thirty to fifty ideas. Surely, one or two of them will be pretty good.

And you’ll never have that “what do I do now?” feeling.

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