I’ve been talking about how to organize your ideas. Now I want to talk about where those ideas originate.


You might ask, “Don’t ideas just come?”

For some of us, the answer is a loud, “Yes.” There are people who are overwhelmed by a constant flood of ideas. I’ll talk about that problem later.

I find, however, that many new writers really have only one idea. Often, it’s related to something that happened to them. And, quite often, they think they have to write a book about it.

Since all of writing is dependent on ideas, I want to explore this world of ideas in the next few weeks, starting with how to find ideas to write about, and then helping you decide which ideas to work with first.

But before we start, there are…

Four things you should know about ideas:

1. An idea is simply a starting point. Fifty people, if given the same idea, would likely write fifty different things.

2. It’s what you do with an idea that matters: not what you might do.

3. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Good writers learn to separate the good ideas from the great ideas.

4. All ideas must be refined. Yes, a good idea well-executed is a wonderful thing, but ideas have to be studied and evaluated and shaped and crafted to make them work for you.


postit note - true story

Writing exercise:

Using 3″ x 5″ cards, small 2″ or 4″ pieces of paper, an Excel file, or whatever works for you, write down every idea you have at this time. One idea per page.

One of my actual ideas is on a post-it note right here. Give enough information so that when you look at it a year or two from now you’ll still know what the idea was about. Just writing something like “lost keys” wouldn’t be enough. Try to provide a few details if you can. Sort of the “who, what, when , where, why, and how of the story.

Or your idea might be philosophical. Say you want to write something to help people “understand the difference between doing your best and doing enough to get by.” And maybe you have a specific illustration or maybe you have only the general idea. That’s okay too. Just put down as much as you can at this time.


Check the Category Lists at the top of the home page for more posts on this or similar topics.


For some reason, N. J. Lindquist was born with the impression that, whenever she learned something new, she had an obligation to teach it to other people. While she's the first to admit that her compulsion to teach can be really annoying, she's also discovered that there are some people who are happy to learn from her. This blog is therefore a place for her to share what she's learned about writing with people who are interested in what she has to say.

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Leave a Reply

  1. Zoe,

    Yes, quite a few people get ideas from dreams. However, it’s rare that you get the entire piece from the dream.

    Usually, you use the dream as the beginning of whatever you’re writing and go from there, making sure you’re covering all the basics of what makes a story, crafting it so that it becomes the best writing you can do.

    In other words, if you’re only writing the dream in order to remember it, that’s fine. But if you want other people to read your work, the dream itself can’t be in control; it is simply the inspiration for what you choose to write.

  2. i have wrote an entire novel off of a dream. People just needed to write what the aspire for untill something stands out is that so hard.

  3. Yeah, that’s the hard part. On the other hand, most ideas can be made to work if you’re serious about them. You just may not end up writing what you thought you were going to when you started out.

  4. Seriously? They have courses on this. Another verification that we’re all different. If I let myself, I could generate so many ideas it would drive me crazy!

    Anyway, hope the course and my stuff are both helpful. 🙂

    1. The timing of both is really good for me. I have a very basic beginning for a new novel, and I’m at that wonderful discovery phase. Perfect for incorporating ideas, big and small, to add flavour and direction.

      One of the things I’m hoping your blog will address (for me but also for many writers) is the sifting of ideas to choose the best, whatever “best” means for each of us in our projects.


  5. Looking forward to this series. The timing is great, because I’ve just started an online course on brainstorming and discovering new ideas. The ideas are all around us, but I think I’ve been tuning a lot of them out. And it only makes sense that we have to weed through a lot of good ideas to find the bright, shiny great ones that will sustain our passion as we write them and will translate into something readers will value.

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