Writers find ideas by association

Have you ever had one thing remind you of another?

Maybe it’s a smell that reminds you of a similar smell from the past. A person who makes you think of another person you know. A line from a poem or story that makes you recall an event that happened to you…. That happens to me frequently. Often, it’s an elusive feeling or insight that disappears as quickly as it came. But sometimes it stays long enough to jog an awareness in my brain, and I make notes before I lose it.

Or it might be seeing something familiar in a brand new way. Maybe it’s deliberately trying to come up with memories or new ideas through associating them with other things.

Let me give you an example.

music-notes I’ve been familiar with the song “Oh, Freedom” since I was a child. Always loved it, no doubt as much because of what a good singer can do with it musically as because of the meaning behind it.

But one day, over 30 years ago, someone’s remark about “freedom in Christ” started the lyrics from “Oh Freedom” playing in my head. “…And before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and be free…”

An instant later, it popped into my mind that I needed to write a story about freedom, and that it’s not, as most of us think, a physical state, as much as it is a spiritual state. I remembered Paul talking about being free in Christ while being chained in a Roman prison. And my brain began to whirl.

In the next couple of days, I developed my idea into a plan for a book about a man who was running from the physical reality of prison, but would somehow find that he was able to face a prison cell once he knew what spiritual freedom was. I developed character sketches for the primary characters, a plot, the works…. I titled my book, Oh Freedom, and went to work writing it.

I’d love to point you to where you can read it. Only I can’t. Because I haven’t finished it yet. Not to go on a tangent here, but not everything you begin will get finished. Not every idea will result in a completed manuscript. And not every completed manuscript will get published. Life happens. You lose interest. Publishers change their minds. Everything takes more energy and more time than you expect. You realize you don’t have the skills to complete what you’ve begun as you’d want to have it.

Here’s another example.

Sun circle brainstorming sheetI’m currently working on a memoir of my childhood.

Over the years, I’ve often told people I have very few memories before I was about 7 years old.

But guess what? As I focus on the memoir, I’ve been remembering things. Looking at photographs and other memorabilia has brought back a number of memories. And the memory isn’t always connected to the photograph.

What I’m doing is making lists of everything I can think of, and the more things I write down, the more I remember. It’s as if each person or event or item I remember triggers another memory.

And one more example:

I also use association techniques when I need more ideas on a particular topic.

While writing my second Circle of Friends book, I needed to come up with more things that might happen in a small town.

I chose to use a circle I drew that is like a child’s sun.

I then filled in all the spokes of the wheel with things like a person having a heart attack, a baby’s birth, a fire, a car accident, a stray dog, and so forth. As I brainstormed, various things came back to me from my own growing-up years in a small town. The old airport from WW II where I learned to drive became the setting of a drag race; Glen helped deliver a baby; and so forth.

Ovals brainstorming sheet

I also have another brainstorming page that allows more random associations. I start with the middle oval but go in any direction. The titles for my mysteries came from this. I put the word “light” in the central oval, and then went both ways, finding words meaning light and dark. So I ended up with Shaded Light, Glitter of Diamonds, Opaque Rays, and a few more.

Writing Exercise:

1. Take a look at some of your own writing ideas and see if you can remember where they came from.

2. Next time you’re thinking of writing something, choose a few key words or thoughts and try to come up with more ideas by freely associating them.

3. Next time you get stuck while working on something, or in planning what to write, try using one of these sheets or one of your own to get you unstuck

4. Download and print off my brainstorming sheets as PDF files.

sun circle brainstorming sheet

oval brainstorming sheet

 

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