The Idea Generator

Ideas are key to sustaining writing. A writer needs ideas to generate output. Without ideas a writer can quickly become stale or complacent.

For me, starting out writing for the theatre meant that I was lucky. Ideas came from outside sources; the people who commissioned me to write for them or the educational system that dictated the topics I had to write about.

Moving from theatre into non-fiction, and writing for the trade press and magazines meant that I had to come up with my own ideas. Without ideas I had nothing to pitch, and without a pitch I had no income.

I was lucky during my time as a feature writer for Italy Magazine, as about 25% of my output came from ideas generated by the editor. This meant I only had to formulate 75% of ideas myself.

My contract with the magazine meant that at the start of each month I had to pitch my new ideas; as we worked four months ahead I had to be aware of anything that would be time specific.

On average I would pitch 15 ideas every 30 days, with around 50% being rejected. Ideas that were accepted but not needed for immediate publication were then stored in my idea generator. Giving me a stock to fall back on.

Screenshot of my fiction files

When you work for the magazine market you need to be constantly looking for new ideas. More so than a fiction writer?

Not really. A fiction writer also needs a regular input of ideas, for a novel, for magazine stories, anthologies and for competitions. The list is endless.

One question I’ve heard many times from other writers is, ‘But where can I get my ideas from?’

Ideas can come from anywhere, a car journey, a restaurant menu or a conversation. They can spring up in the most unexpected places, they can catch you while you’re snoozing, even drop into your lap as a literary gift. But it’s what you do with your ideas that is important.

I have an important folder in my computer that’s called Idea Generator. There’s one in my fiction folder and my non fiction and scripts folders too. It’s here that I record my ideas.

The Idea Generator is a great place for me to store the ideas that I’ve scribbled inside to my notebook and they may sit in this folder unused for years.

I have pages full of funny (IMO) one liners that have come to me in many different situations. I have questions I have no answers to – there’s no need to search for the answers until I plan to use them. There’s cuts from drafts of previous work that can be recycled. In fact, lots of miscellaneous pieces of text that can maybe, one day, grow into something more substantial.

The main folder has sub-folders one of these is called, Old Beryl. It contained snippets of text and character dialogue that I had stored for years. An idea in this folder became the seed that germinated and grew into my novel 52. From just a handful of ideas 92,000 words flourished.

Some ideas in this folder are still being used and are being incorporated in two of my current WIP’s, Sheila Wheeler and 25 Voices.

The folder, Story Ideas contains ideas for stories that are a little more fleshed out. This folder contains an idea I had after visiting a facility for dementia patients. This idea then grew into a short piece called Chips Again, which may one day grow into a longer story or form part of a chapter in a novel. Until then it remains stored in the Idea Generator.

With this file opened you can see I currently have 13 story ideas. These are not categorised, because as of yet they’re just ideas and they can evolve into whatever they will.

Ideas are important. You can never know what an idea will grow into.

My advice is. Don’t store ideas in your head, because if you do, you’ll lose them.

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2 Responses to The Idea Generator

  1. Excellent Barry. I have lost count of the ideas if had and thought to myself I’ll write that down later and lost it. Even now when I think of a good phrase with note book to hand the very act of writing it makes it start to slip away and I have to be quick. The other thing I have found is idea fatigue. I did a full page cartoon strip for On The Edge (later Climb magazine) for 10 years or more and found that after that time I had pretty much covered all bases. Generating new ideas for such a niche market got to the stage of “Let’s have an alien invasion at Ravens Tor, oh hang on I did that back in 99”

  2. Pingback: One Line | Barry Lillie

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