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The Idea Fiend – Aligning Your Thoughts

If you’re a writer, I’m pretty sure you have days when ideas flood your mind like an overfilled dam. Whether those ideas are for stories, characters, worlds, or plot points, if managed badly they could get seriously overwhelming.

Align Your Thoughts

I’m currently working on multiple projects (when am I not) and the result is a growing folder of first drafts, story notes and, occasionally, quotes. I don’t have a plan for them other than, “I’ll get to it eventually.” And unfortunately that eventuality never comes to fruition.

“If only. Those must be the two saddest words in the world.”
― Mercedes Lackey

What I’ve started doing is the following:

  • Create a Project:  I use X-Mind, a free mind mapping tool, to plan my ideas. Each idea gets its own bubble and I explore each one enough to have some of the basics covered.
  • Make Notes: When I’m not at my computer I use my phone or a notepad to jot down the ideas. Nothing long-winded or detailed. I write short, simple points in bullet form, then link them as I see fit while the ideas flourish.
  • Voice Notes: When I’m driving, I usually put my phone on the dashboard with the voice recorder on and just talk about my ideas. I probably look weird but… aren’t all authors?

Once I have all the ideas, I explore each of them using the age old method: Who? What? Where? When? Why? (and how?)

Things to cover

This method is useful for exploring various aspects of an idea. When it comes to story ideas I use them as follows:

  • Who: Who are the characters in the story?
  • What: What is the story about? What are the characters doing? What is their motivation?
  • Where: Where is the story taking place?
  • When: When is the story taking place?
  • Why: Why are the characters doing what they are doing? Why is the story happening?
  • How: How am I telling this story? Perspective. Genre. Style. Tone. Voice. Etc.

The same method can be applied to scenes.

  • Who: Who are the characters in this scene?
  • What: What is this scene about? What are the characters doing? What happened before? What will happen afterwards?
  • Where: Where is this scene taking place? Where are the characters?
  • When: When is this scene in the story?
  • Why: Why are the characters doing what they are doing? Why is this scene happening?
  • How: How do I start/end this scene? How do I move the story forward?

Things to keep in mind

While having a billion (exaggeration) ideas and jotting each one down is great, the truth is: you can’t write out every idea into a story. Here’s some quick tips on what to do with all of them:

Choose the best/favourite one.

Not all the ideas you have will be great. That’s a given. So why not choose your favourite. If that one doesn’t work, choose the idea that works best or is fleshed out more.

Test it out.

Sometimes the best thing to do is to try out each idea. Choose a couple of your favourites/best and give them a test trial. Take your characters for a walk, explore your world, tell part of the story, or analyse your plot in short paragraphs. See which one is worth focusing on first.

Let it simmer

This is a slightly “dangerous” one but could be useful. Let ideas simmer for a while and do something else. You might gain an epiphany while you cook/clean/game/exercise etc. Just don’t let them sit for too long or you’ll be counterproductive.

Ask a friend

Or a writers group if you’re part of one, or fellow bloggers/writers. Gain some fresh insight to help you make a good choice. Bounce the ideas off people you trust.

Draw it out

Or make an actual mind map or some visual aid – like the wall you see in detective movies. It’s difficult to see your computer files or notes in their individual spaces. Pin them up or use sticky notes with a couple of words then tie them all in using red string (wool is best… also, sarcasm – although now that I think about it…).

Above all else, enjoy the process! One of the worst things to happen is for you to hate the idea you were so excited about. Just remember: the (recycle) bin is a terrible place for an idea to be.


What do you do when you have too many ideas? Please share your advice, you never know who you might help in the process.

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About Nthato Morakabi

Nthato Morakabi is a South African published author. He has short stories appearing in both international and local anthologies, and has published his first book, Beneath the Wax, which opens his three-part novella series "Wax". He is an avid reader, blogger and writer.

10 responses »

  1. I use Scapple as my mindmapping tool 😀 But I always have a notebook (paper) with me. When I can’t get it out and write, though, Wunderlist on my phone and tablet is my next best friend. I also have a file on the computer called “Skeletons” where I throw in all those random ideas that pop into my head out of seemingly nowhere.
    Fortunately housework does help to work through ideas or parts of stories. But it does sometimes take a lot of willpower to focus on only one of the many ideas at a time! 😀

    Reply
    • Oooh I’ll have to look up Wunderlist. The default notepad on my phone is okay but not the best. As for the “Skeletons” folder, I have one of those too haha and inside are many more folders “new stories” “newer stories” “old stories”.

      Usually my time in traffic is perfect for working through ideas but like you I also need willpower to focus on one idea at a time haha 🙂

      Reply
  2. I do the same thing with the “who, what, where, etc.” I have so many ideas and I sat down a long time ago and gave them each a folder (I use a file folder for each novel to stick my current draft in). I actually plan on going through it all today, which shouldn’t be as fun as I hope… Lol.

    Reply
    • Haha that “who, what, where” method is so useful I even use it for research and other things. Really useful to align your thought processes.

      Oh the dreaded idea folder visit! I’m sure it’s going to be fun, although I tend to see an idea and have no idea what I was trying to accomplish with it. Hopefully you don’t get overwhelmed!

      Reply
      • It really does help a lot. I especially use it for my mysteries planning out the crimes. It zeros in on the details.
        I know a lot of them are just ideas for titles. Why I would waste a folder on that, I don’t know… But I put most of those folders together years ago.

      • Well here’s to hoping you find a gem and your next novel yeah?

      • I hope so. I’m in the middle of five or so novels though so I have to figure something out, lol.

  3. Great tips. I like to take notes of any idea that comes up, just so I don’t lose it, though I could never get comfortable with voice notes. My voice sounds so weird…

    Reply
  4. Pingback: The Idea Fiend – Aligning Your Thoughts — A-Scribe To Describe – I Suck at Writing

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