Ideas Don’t Grow on Trees, You Know

All writers get tingly from a shiny new idea. I don’t know, maybe it’s the sparkle of a newborn thought, or the rush of characters, scenes, plots, and conflicts that pop into consciousness all at once…or maybe it’s the hey-I-bet-nobody’s-thought-of-this-before smell.

For me, the “shiny new idea” is a rare, fragile, and precious thing. I’m lucky to get two, solid, this-could-really-be-something ideas a year. So when it happens, I hang onto that sucker like it’s a winning multi-million dollar lottery ticket.

The spontaneous nature of the “shiny new idea” makes it hard to manufacture too. It seems like I just have to wait for it to smack me over the head.

So, dear writerly friends, how do your “shiny new ideas” appear? Is there a secret formula out there? How do you identify an idea the “works” or one that doesn’t?

(pic source)

Don’t forget to check out this week’s Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog where Sarah shares her writerly “always/nevers.” Deb wraps up the month next week.

Every Wednesday


30 comments on “Ideas Don’t Grow on Trees, You Know

  1. Kendall Grey says:

    My shiny new ideas usually grab me when I least expect them. Sometimes I try to think of story ideas, spend loads of time brainstorming and come up empty. Then a week later, I see a picture, hear a word, read someone’s silly Twitter post (that’s how my latest one happened), and BAM. Best. Idea. Ever.

    I wish I had a formula. I wish I could understand what fires my neurons in just the right way, but there is no rhyme or reason to it for me. Just happens.

  2. vixter2010 says:

    The shiny new idea is always amazing to get, I wish I got more of then lol. I find my long train journeys useful.

  3. Doris says:

    Same as Kendall, my shiny ideas come up when I least expect. Sometimes in a dream, as mentioned on my post today.


  4. Ciara Knight says:

    I tend to have many ideas pop up it’s fleshing them out that takes longer for me.

  5. My new ideas always come as a ‘what if’ scenario that doesn’t seem promising at first. But I always write them down and eventually more tidbits come along until I have a pretty decent story idea. For me, the most important part is to write everything down. I also often combine ideas.

  6. Lynn Rush says:

    Boy. An idea can pop up any time, any place. That’s what makes his journey so fun! 🙂

  7. Cherie Reich says:

    I love shiny new ideas, but I typically don’t rush to write them down. They seem to appear out of nowhere for me. I’ll be doing something else, and bam! Idea. If the idea doesn’t disappear later, I write it down. I might re-evaluate it if I have time. I may plot a little. And, if the idea still draws me to it when I have free time, I begin writing. I do wish there was some secret formula to know whether or not an idea was good or not. I tend to think the ones I keep coming back to are the better ones, but that remains to be proven.

  8. I miss the days when unexpected shiny ideas popped up. I’m dealing with some issues which have stilted my creativity (never thought that was possible), but I’m not giving up. My muse will come back with a treasure chest of shiny ideas one day. Hopefully soon!

  9. I don’t know how I identify an idea that will work out of all the others. They just feel different.

  10. Lydia K says:

    I never know when they’re going to show up, but when they do, my world goes on standstill why I scribble it down, and then I can’t stop thinking about it. Very disruptive, but in a good way!

  11. Charli Mac says:

    For me, it always starts with a scenario. The characters morph from there. For instance. My first and current WIP started with the brain fart of a sister coming home from being away and walks right into a huge family party. She has four older brothers and she is the baby. Coming home she has one hell of a secret.

    That was over ten years ago that idea. The characters evolved later the more I thought about the scene. A song inspired my heroine. This scene wouldn’t go away and I had to finally write their story and started in July of ’09.

    I have a series based on all the siblings roughly plotted out. There are two ideas for other novels in my head and I am letting the scenes and characters talk to me as they wish. I jot notes here and there.

  12. I love the photo! So cute! A shiny new idea has hit the puppy in the head! I’m trying to get an image in my mind of what a shiny new idea might be. I think I get it. A thought, a word, a scene, a photo, an emotion that grabs one by the heart and squeezes out a verse, a story, a plot, or a character. I don’t know where they come from, but they come, and when they do, like you, I clutch and run for the keyboard. Blessings to you, Laura…

  13. Linda Gray says:

    Ooooh, shiny. Love that. Two ways I’ve gotten that heart-flutter that comes with knowing an idea shines: one directly from dreams and meditations: the other from a different, more this-worldly approach of starting with knowing what feeling I want to write (light-hearted, e.g.), then walking around for weeks and months with that percolating while I read books, cook meals, plant flowers etc. until I hit on a template (usually from a book) that I recognize as great for developing that feeling into an idea with legs. Both are really satisfying. The first is more powerful, though.

  14. For me, ideas drop from the ether (mostly fully formed) into my head and luckily, stay cryogenically frozen there until I need ’em, which is nice. Also love it when ideas for deepening a current MS appear during the loooonnnnggg walk from spark to polished product. Like happy little waystations with icy Arnold Palmers and cool lemongrass-scented cloths to send you on your refreshed writin’ way 😀 Great post!

  15. Angie says:

    Ideas are everywhere, but really good ones? Those are harder to find. Dreams have always been a good source for me. Or just people watching or eavesdropping. =p

  16. I get a lot of short story ideas from dreams, but the novel ideas usually smack me over the head from some news article. I get a weekly email of the top science news stories from Scientific American, and that’s always good for a story idea or two. They don’t always pan out (the GENIUS idea I had from it yesterday has already been done :P) but maybe another new story in a few weeks will add a different spin to my idea. Songs also inspire ideas really well – sometimes a scene, sometimes a character, sometimes a whole story arch. But they always blindside me and I know they are good if I can’t get them out of my head. And I know I’m going to write them when the first character shows up in my Character Cafe (I can usually feel a new character just behind that door for a few days before they actually appear).

  17. Stephanie McGee says:

    For me, when I get a new idea I start a binder for it. Blank paper for me to jot down every wild idea that pops into my head.

    If an idea is one that’s going to stick, and be worth the work, my brain won’t let it go. I’ll keep getting little tidbits of ideas, snippets of dialogue, etc. And they’ll come at random times but be so exciting I have to drop whatever I’m doing and find some way of getting that written down.

    If I don’t get this rush of ideas and such, the story isn’t going to stick and I won’t ever get more than a few lines on a sheet of paper filled with background/world-building stuff.

    But if that rush is there, then I end up with 70K some odd words that thrill me and depress me and make me want to tear out my hair and buy swedish fish to celebrate “The End.”

  18. Vicki Tremper says:

    Usually I get the beginnings of an idea and I have to sit down and really think about how it could turn into something. Once I have a short plot summary that feels like it could be a book, then I get all excited. I get lots of those little possibilities of ideas, but I don’t sit and think about them if I’m in the middle of somethign else. I just make a note on my to-do list and come back to it someday (or hope to).

  19. Akoss says:

    I used to think “ideas don’t grown on tree” until this year. I’m challenging myself to write a short story every month. By doing so, instead of waiting for an idea to slap me in the face, I’ve been tossing a bunch of them in my mind (very often) until one will “click”. Then I will turn that idea into a short story. I’ve done 3 so far and my most recent one has great potential for a novel (according to my critique group). It was a surprise and a very welcomed one.

  20. Talli Roland says:

    I wish they did grow on trees! Mine usually come late at night in the struggle to sleep, god lov’em!

  21. lexcade says:

    i have no idea LOL. the wip i’m working now was inspired by one line of Starlight by Muse. the one i abandoned for this one (and plan to return to once i get a rough draft finished) came from…yeah… i’d rather not air all my nerdy dorkdom in one day. but it’s funny. these little ideas start as seeds and then germinate into something that would at least be fun to write. if i can’t enjoy myself writing it, then it’s probably not a viable thing. i have to love it to make someone else love it, right?

  22. Madeline says:

    Lately I’ve been doing something I call “speed writing”. Everyday I pick a random picture from and it inspires a random writing about 150 – 200 words long, usually with a twist at the end. I’ve been saving all of these writings up for a little over a month now, and they finally all came together a few days ago, resulting in a brand new idea – a combination of my favorite speed writings. So I guess spilling small ideas daily will build a big picture soon enough, a shiny new idea! 🙂

  23. roguemutt says:

    I get most of mine on the toilet.

  24. Jamie Grey says:

    I actually get a lot of the initial kernels of ideas from dreams. Other times I’ll play the what-if game in my head based on a thought or idea or picture and often that’ll morph into a shiny new idea. I wish I had a consistent way to get them – I’m with you, I only get a couple of really good ideas a year!

  25. I get most of my shiny new ideas while scrubbing dishes or folding laundry. How odd is that?

  26. Margo says:

    I have friends that come up with great ideas, I’m serious really GREAT ideas like I come up with zits – you wake up and it’s there, fully formed, and far too often for an adult with kids (okay, more details than you want, sorry)

    Anyway I RARELY get ideas. I consider your ideas ABUNDANT if you get two a year! I’ve had a total of four my whole life that I thought I could turn into a novel (though I’ve a few minor short stories ones too)

    But just recently I read something that might, MIGHT help. It did recently just give a much improved idea on my current WIP. It’s taking a tried and true story concept like Aladdin’s lamp for instance and then asking “what if?” questions about it to put a different spin on the story.

    So with some serious work I can come up with a new idea off an old story. But a truly original idea? They are TREASURES.

  27. Mine just sort of sneak up on me, but it’s an idea hiding ‘in’ something. The way the wind rattles a bag caught in a tree, the shape of a rock…that’s where my ideas hide. I’ll see, hear, smell something, and KNOW there’s something there and I just have to dig for it. 🙂

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  28. My shiny new ideas like to hit me when I least expect them. I have had to scramble to find the pen and paper in the middle of the night. Tried to write things down on the tiny touch screen of my smart phone while running to catch the next bus.

    Sometimes they pop into my head at work. That is the trickiest. Trying to hold on to them until lunch is hard. It is so tempting to just drop everything and take the rest of the day off.

  29. Carradee says:

    I currently have more ideas than I have time to put together, so I’m not worried about that. I’m focusing on getting in the habit of writing x words on a specified project each day, and increasing x so maybe I can eventually make some headway into these ideas.

    I used to have to fight with most of my ideas to make them viable. Nowadays they tend to show up fully viable, or close enough to it that a simple discussion of the idea with one of my friends transforms it into a viable idea that I can see a route for.

    What I tend to do is spend a day or two making notes on the idea and writing a bit (I generally write a scene or opening, getting the rough “voice” down), until I reach the point of “Need to sit down and think through this to worldbuild”, then go back to the project that I’m currently committed to finishing.

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