How I Get Ideas

I often use terms like “brainstorm” when talking about the writing process. Putting words to computer screen only happens if there’s a crapload of activity swarming around in your brain. Whether you’re a pantser or a planner, there needs to be something going on up there before you open a text document. Thinking about your future best-seller is just as important as the physical act of writing it.

So how does an aspiring writer* get the proverbial juices flowing? Where do great ideas come from? (*IMO, the phrase “aspiring writer” is a misnomer. If you create a story, you’re a writer. People should say “aspiring author” in reference to someone who wishes to be published.)

In my limited experience, there are two parts to this answer.

Inspiration

Inspiration can be a good angel or a bad angel. It’s a good angel when you’re really stuck and have no clue what the hell to write. It’s a bad angel when you’re midway through a novel and a shiny new story idea distracts you from a project you’ve been working on for months. We’ll address the positive aspects of inspiration here.

You can harvest ideas from literally anywhere, and I do mean literally. The trick is opening your mind to them. While you’re out in the world, working at your day job, spending time with friends or family, listen to what’s going on around you. The same applies when you read a book or watch TV. My own novel-in-progress combines elements of shows I’ve loved over the years. (Mostly Disney Channel’s So Weird, a show with a permanent place in my heart. There’s also some of the dynamic from  ABC’s Castle, and the premise will probably make people think of X-Files.)

So when you’re not writing, grab on to anything interesting and expand on it in your thoughts. Add a plot line, characters, settings, themes. I picture the process as a Rubik’s Cube, where you have to move all the pieces around until they finally click together. When a scene takes shape (any scene, not necessarily the first one) you’re off and running.

Playing Twenty-Or-More Questions (Or, How to Drag Yourself Out of Writer’s Bock)

This is a technique I use when my surroundings don’t feel particularly inspiring. I’m the type to ask myself the tough questions when things aren’t going right, so I apply this to my writing. It’s also a great way to pull a story idea from thin air.

For starters I’ll ask myself these types of questions:

What do I want to write about? (Can mean anything – person, place, theme.)

What story line would fit that topic?

Which characters would best demonstrate what I want to say?

Am I in the mood to write something light or dark in tone?

Which genre appeals to me right now?

Answering those questions always gets the ball rolling. When I inevitably hit a wall after the first few chapters, the questions become a little more difficult.

Why am I stuck?

If I don’t want to write the next scene, why is that? 

What can I change?

Does this story suck and I haven’t realized it yet? (Ignore that one.)

Where do I want the story to go?

Keep playing the game until something breaks loose. The only way to defeat “writer’s block” is to think long and hard about why you’re not writing.

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Nostalgia Versus Reality

Since I was born in the late eighties, I love the nineties as much as the next millennial. I remember cassettes and VHS tapes and Furby. My iTunes has a bunch of favorites from that decade (though now I prefer 90’s alternative rock instead of pop). And of course, like most millennials, I put TGIF and SNICK shows on a pedestal.

That doesn’t mean I want everything back. Sure, up until a few years ago I jumped on the bandwagon. I criticized most of today’s Disney and Nickelodeon while wishing for reruns of So Weird and The Secret World of Alex Mack. Name one “90’s kid” who didn’t.

Then the cultural regression began. Classic movies are being rebooted. Disney Channel produced a sequel to Boy Meets World while Netflix caught up with the Tanner family. Nickelodeon tried several times to bring back SNICK (more on that later). Soon after, Disney Channel followed suit by playing early shows and original movies. Networks finally paid attention to the millennials petitioning for their favorites online. Across the Internet, we rejoiced.

It wasn’t as glorious as we’d hoped. Wishing for old shows to return is one thing, but actually getting them back is another. It’s a classic “be careful what you wish for” scenario. Girl Meets World turned out to be a typical modern-day Disney Channel show that many of us lost interest in soon after favorite characters returned. While  Fuller House is better than expected and I’ll watch the second season, it’s not the same quality as a “real” sitcom on regular television. For the most part I didn’t even watch the throwback blocks on Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. Maybe I tuned in at first just for a nostalgia fix, but I don’t even think of those shows now.

I’ve realized this is because they were made for kids. They might be a little “better” than some kid shows produced today, but I can’t watch Rugrats or Hey Arnold on a regular basis anymore. There’s a big difference between reminiscing about your childhood and revisiting it as an adult. Now that we can “go home again,” I’d rather not. The most I’ll do is rewatch my absolute favorites when I get super nostalgic (note previously-mentioned Alex Mack and So Weird).

Even then, I don’t turn to Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. I watch the episodes I want online. That’s another difference between now and then – in this century, I have the resources to download shows onto my laptop.

That said, I will watch old DCOMs if there’s nothing else on. The throwback blocks don’t catch my attention though because Disney and Nick always play the same episodes anyway. These networks want to capitalize on the nostalgia craze, but apparently they don’t want to acknowledge their entire library. Not to mention the few times I tuned into “The 90’s Are All That,” it pandered to millennials so much that the commercials bordered on insulting. Maybe it’s just me, but I got the impression that while Nickelodeon wanted more viewers, they didn’t think highly of their new demographic. (Stick Stickly had an edge: “that’s not at all pathetic.”)

The bright side here is that these 90’s favorites might catch on with younger generations. While I’m not going to watch these shows, they’ll appeal to their original target – kids and young teens.

Even though I still indulge in nostalgia, I’ve also opened my eyes to reality. This overwhelming love for 90’s culture has everything to do with the economy. Many millennials are unemployed or underemployed, so I think we revert because we miss how things used to be in the worst way. We’re also one of the first generations to express ourselves – loudly – on social media. Networks and other companies pay attention because they’d be stupid not to. Petitions and email campaigns prove the audience is already there.

So that’s my two cents. There are upsides though because I’ve made online friends thanks to moments of intense nostalgia. Appreciation for 90’s culture unites us millennials, but sometimes, unfortunately, I feel like it’s the only thing we have. I guess what I’m saying is that I hope for a day when our present will be even better than the 90’s.