5 Techniques to Generate Creative Writing Ideas | Alison Stein | Skillshare

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5 Techniques to Generate Creative Writing Ideas

teacher avatar Alison Stein, Writer, Artist, and Teacher

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

10 Lessons (54m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. The Good News About Rejection Letters

    • 3. Your Project

    • 4. 1 - The "Getting Smaller" Technique

    • 5. 2- Trouble Trouble

    • 6. 3- Review to Find Ideas

    • 7. 4-Busybodies

    • 8. 5-Found Words

    • 9. Tips for Getting to a First Draft

    • 10. Recap

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About This Class

This class will teach you five unique brainstorming, self-reflection and ideation techniques for developing your very own unique writing prompts.  You’ll learn to mine your own life, fascinations and imagination to develop fifty writing prompts that will get you started on a writing project, and/or keep you going on existing ones.  

This class is for writers of all experience levels, from absolute beginners to well-published pros. No prior experience is required. 

Idea generating skills are so important! Every working writer needs tons of ideas.  Obviously you need an idea to start a writing project, but you also need ideas as a project progresses, whether that’s for a new plot twist in a novel, or for a new research thread to weave into a piece of narrative nonfiction. When you’re getting started as a writer, you must generate your own ideas to develop compelling material. And while established writers often work on assignment, or pursue an idea from an editor, or further develop ideas they’ve already published, it’s always more fun to work on fresh and exciting ideas of your own invention. This class will give you the techniques you need to ensure you’ll never run low on those rocket-fuel ideas. While these techniques are geared towards writers of all stripes -- poets, playwrights, journalists, bloggers, screenwriters,  songwriters, essayists, memoirists, novelists, welcome! -- they can also be applied to any creative project.

Materials required: you’ll need a pen and a pad you can write on. Nothing too fancy! And you’ll also need a few old magazines or newspapers that you don’t mind cutting up, scissors and a glue stick. Other than that, you just need what’s between your two ears!

Meet Your Teacher

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Alison Stein

Writer, Artist, and Teacher


I'm Alison Stein, thanks for stopping by!  I write, I art and I teach. 

I live and work in Manhattan, where —true story– I was born, raised and survived the 80s. I live with one man, one cat, and one dog, Maggie, who is famous because she is in the intro video to my Skillshare class.

(My cat Jack is a jealous guy -- so here is a drawing of him I made during The 100 Day Project a couple of years ago, for which I did a drawing a day of the people and creatures of New York. This was drawing #89, and the first time I allowed myself to draw my pets for the project, because otherwise that's all I'd have drawn.)

Anyway, I've left New York City a few times to live other places -- urban, rural, th... See full profile

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1. Introduction: Hi, I'm Allison Stein and I've been writing professionally since I graduated from college.I calculated that's 24 years ago. So that means that if a baby was born on the day I graduated from college, that girl would herself had already graduated from college and she probably has her master's degree. I have written for many magazines, newspapers, and websites, some that you've heard of, many more that you haven't. The skill that I've relied on the most of my career has been being able to come up with ideas. A lot of the times writers rely on prompts from somebody else. Maybe you find them on the internet, maybe you find them in books, maybe you'll get them in a class. This class is going to help you come up with your own writing prompts.That's something that you really need to be able to do in order to have a steady flow of writing moving through your life. The goal for this class is for you to come up with 50 writing prompts of your very own and I know that sounds like a lot, but we're gonna break it down and make it so easy. Five techniques that we're going to go over today are review, trouble trouble, getting smaller, busy bodies, and found word. These techniques get at different areas of your creative life. So we look at your younger years we might not, we look at things that have caused your trouble in your life and we pull the best ideas from that. We eavesdrop a little bit. So we get ideas from other people and we use the skill of randomness to find ideas in the world. These ideas are useful for anyone at any level, whether you're a bear beginner or you have a shelf groaning with books that you've written. These ideas can help you. I use these techniques to this day. You can return to these techniques over and over again and you can get different ideas from them. So what we're going to do is we're going to go over each of these techniques step-by-step, one-by-one and there's worksheets and the class resources to help you along. For the class project, you're going to create 50 ideas of your own. I think you are going to come up with more than that, but 50 is fine and I want you to post your favorites in the class forum. One of the side effects of this class is that it'll give you an opportunity to do some real introspection and take a good look at the places that you've been, the people that you've been over your life and you'll get to see the goal that you really have that you haven't even been aware of. So I think that it will have benefits beyond just your creative practice. I think that it will help you to feel like a more complete individual. I'm so excited to go on this journey with you so let's go. 2. The Good News About Rejection Letters: One of the main theories of this class is that one, you need a lot of ideas and two not all those ideas have to be great ones and so with that in mind, I wanted to share something with you from my first year of writing. When I started out, I was living in a small town in upstate New York and I didn't know anybody in publishing. I was really just cold pitching people and because the year was 1996, everything was done on this stuff called paper through this thing called the mail. What I wanted to show you is that this binder is filled with published writing from my first three years as a writer and you can see that I actually didn't do that badly. I published a lot of work in those first three years. It wasn't all paid really well, but it would still work, but that got published. But to me what is actually even more inspiring is that this is the folder filled with all of the rejections that I received in that first year and you can see it's thick, It's not quite as thick as that, but it's pretty thick. I was rejected by everybody, National Geographic, Oatmeal Studios which I was pitching greeting cards, Aramco World which was a publication at that time, Complete Women, that goes on and on. Sometimes they were letters like this and sometimes they were just written on my actual query letter. Not interested at this time, thanks. Cosmopolitan. I really tried at all but the reason I'm so proud of this is because every single one of these was a reason for me to not continue. Every single one of these was a reason for me to say, you know what, I can't do this and I just kept going. In a way, I really respect that young woman that I was then for having so little ego I remember not that I wasn't sad about it when I went to the mailbox, but I remember thinking I'm in the game and that's awesome. I think that's the attitude that you have to have with getting ideas. That what's important about your ideas is that you're in the game, that you're coming up with ideas. You're sending them out into the world. That's really important. It doesn't matter if you get rejected. It doesn't matter if your ideas are, are poor because in the process of coming up with ideas, you're going to get better and better and unfortunately, this is maybe not the best news. The only way to get better is through practice and by sending stuff out. So looking through these, It's kind of funny I had forgotten some of these pitches that I did early on but one of them here from Clamor as a magazine that I went on to write for later. Another one, Men's health that I went on to write for them later too. I think the thing that's important to remember about rejection is that it doesn't feel good, but it's not forever. It's not a forever verdict on you, It's not a forever verdict on your ideas, It's just a no for now. While you're considering your rejections and they will come and their normal, the thing that you have to remember is that your ideas are not getting rejected, just a specific ideas is getting rejected. The most important thing that you can do is come up with the next idea and that's what this class will help you do. 3. Your Project: Your project is to come up with 50 ideas using the techniques that we're going to go over, so that's 10 per technique. Why did I choose 50 instead of a million or 10? Fifty is a good stretch goal. It's not something that you probably could do off the top of your head. If I told you to come up with five ideas, you could probably do that right now. If I told you to come up with a million ideas, you turn off the computer and walk away. So 50 is a good stretch. You're going to come up with 10 ideas per technique, and you are more than welcome to come up with more, and I think you probably will, but you shouldn't stress about it. If you come up with a slightly less than 10 for one of them, it's no big deal. The point isn't as much the quantity as it is just to get you going, and get your juices flowing. I encourage you to watch all of the techniques and see if there are any that feel more appealing to you or less appealing to you. Absolutely, you should prioritize the ones that feel the most appealing to you. But I encourage you if there's one that you feel like about, then you go for that one too because you never know. My rule is, you do anything once, and this is not going to kill you, I promise. For each technique, I'm going to walk you through it. I'll either be doing a demo if it's appropriate, or I'll be showing you examples of how I've used the technique so you can see how it's done. But at the end of the class, you will know how to generate ideas for yourself. You'll know which techniques feel the most easy to you. I encourage you to adapt them if you feel like you would like to do something or combine two of them, that's great. I think that you'll also come up with some techniques all of your own. I'd love to see you share your favorite ideas of prompts that you develop from each technique. One of the benefits of sharing is that you get to see the things that you really like, but also, you get to see what everybody else has come up with. You never know when one of your classmates has an idea that's going to spark your next great idea. I think you should set aside some time to work on each of these techniques. They probably are going to take a little bit more time than you think at first glance. You'll want to have something to write with a pen, a piece of paper. Don't get too precious about it, don't go shopping for new pens and new paper. You can use whatever you have on hand. I do encourage you though, to write by hand because I find that it slows you down a little bit. When you're writing on the computer, you can type along pretty much at the speed of your thoughts. But if you're writing by hand, you become more reflective, and so I encourage you to do that. However, if you hate your handwriting, if it feels really uncomfortable to write, you are more than welcome to use a computer. Find a nice quiet place where you won't be interrupted, get ready to get creative, and let's get going on the first lesson. 4. 1 - The "Getting Smaller" Technique: In this lesson, we're going to be covering a technique that I call "getting smaller". The idea here is to get you back into your child's mind or your teenage mind. We're going to take them one at a time. The reason for that is that, if you think about how you thought about things as a child, you will automatically become more creative. That's not me talking, that's science. I always like to start my classes with an exercise that gets you back into thinking like a kid. The reason for that is that it helps you to become more creative when you get back into that child's way of thinking about things because, of course, when you're a kid, you're not as worried about what people think about you, you're not as self-conscious, you're not judging yourself, you're just living and thinking and being curious. The things that you were interested in when you were a little kid, are probably the things that still interest you today, whether or not you are really aware of that, and when you get back into those things that deeply fascinated you when you were a kid, you're going to find a huge fame of creative gold. For this exercise, I have a worksheet for you in the class resources, and it has a number of different questions that will help you to get back into your child's mind. But before you start the worksheet, I would suggest that you do a little bit of prep, and by that I mean, gather some photos of yourself when you were a little kid, I've done that here, in this really great before there were digital cameras photos. You can look for ones that went from when you were really young, from when you were a teenager, they can be pretty embarrassing, the more embarrassing, the better. That can help a lot. I suggest that you go to places that kids like to go to, maybe not to a playground by yourself if you don't have a kid with you, but you can go to a toy store, leave your kids at home. Remember what sections of the toys store you like to go to. You can go to a library, go to the children's section of a library, flip through some of those books, look at those little chairs. Remember when you used to fit in that little chair. Do whatever you can do that makes sense to you to pull yourself back into that child's mind. Another thing that's really helpful to do is to go and look at IMDb to see what movies were playing in the theaters when you were a kid, to see what television shows were playing. It's amazing what you can forget. Also, you might want to go find some of the music that was popular when you were growing up and play some of that. You might even play it in the background while you're working on these exercises. Even if you have the most boring, unremarkable childhood in the world and everything was perfect, which I'm so happy for you, but don't worry. What these exercises are meant to get at, are the things that you found interesting, your imaginative life and that is where your ideas will come from. This is the worksheet. I already filled this one out, so yours will be blank for you to fill in, and it's divided into two parts. The first one is you as a child, and then the second one is you as a teenager, and I feel like these are really two very distinct times of life. I think anyone who's grown up will probably agree with that, and I really want you to think about them both separately. I start out with just a really general question which was, what were you like as a kid? That's really in order to get you back into thinking like that, and you may not have a great answer for that initially, and that's okay, you can always come back to that question. But I ask you to also think about who were your best friends? That'll really help you to start to think about the next question, which was, what was your favorite way to play? You want to get really specific here. For example, one of my favorite ways to play was a game that I call, 'Let's Play Pretend' and it could be almost anything, but one of my favorite things to do was play office or play hotel, particularly hotel, and I like to imagine that celebrity guests were checking in, and my favorite guest to check in was Lady Diana, who was not yet, Princess Diana, who I was obsessed with. That's an interesting thing to remember. Then it goes into what were some of your favorite subjects in school. Maybe you didn't have a favorite subject in school, and that's worth remembering too. Do you remember those long days of boredom when you were waiting for school to get out? Your favorite after-school activities could be also on the weekends or during the summer, which was a totally different era in a child's life. Your favorite holidays when you were a little kid and why. It's pretty easy to say like your birthday or Christmas or something like that, but really try and get to what was it about those holidays that really felt so magical and wonderful for you. Television shows. What television shows did you love to watch? Then, what movies did you love? This is where the IMDb dive can be very helpful. For this one, I always write down in all capital letters, the movie SPACECAMP. I'm not going to go ahead and say that SpaceCamp was like the best movie of all time, but it was a very meaningful movie to me. and it was a completely ridiculous, '80s wish fantasy fulfillment movie in which a bunch of kids starring Lea Thompson, go to space camp, like the actual space camp that kids go to, but by accident, a robot shoots them into space. Of course, they have to try and figure out how to find their way back and it's all okay in the end, and nobody dies but it made me so excited about space, and it made me so excited about the idea of being an astronaut, which felt very, very doable to me at that time, and I didn't really think about all of the different requirements, like science, and math, and PE and things I didn't like that much. I just thought about the fun of being rocketed up into space. I got that it wasn't real on some level, but I do have to say that as a kid I always found the line between fantasy and reality to be somewhat permeable. I remember being confused about whether the President was Jimmy Carter or Jiminy Cricket, in fairness I was four at that time. It struck me that if they could put it on film, that it might just be able to happen, and so it became a goal of mine to go to space and I haven't quite left that goal go, I must admit. What's the value of remembering that I loved SpaceCamp and all of the things that came with that? Well, by remembering that, it's led me down a lot of different research paths. When there have been lectures on Mars, for example, I've gone and I've attended those. I've made sure to get to the planetarium and when I became a travel writer, I structured a lot of my travel around space tourism activities. I got to go to the Houston Space Center, which was amazing and I saw original historic mission control. I went to see the Very Large Array in New Mexico, which if you watch the movie Contact, that was where it was. Matthew McConaughey was not there when I went, I looked. I went to the very large dish in Arecibo, I wrote about all of this, and it led me to be able to have all of these amazing experiences, that thrilled the child within me, but also led to amazing stories as an adult. When you fill out the worksheet, don't worry about what's going to come from it immediately, just go ahead fill it out as fast as you can, and then when you're done, take a step back and look for patterns, look for themes, look for what really, really gives you the good [inaudible] I want to learn more about that. As I was going through this after I finished it, I could see certain things standing out and obviously SpaceCamp that was a big one. So go ahead and give that a circle or use a highlighter, sticker, whatever you want. Another thing that stood out to me is that, I hadn't actually thought that much about until I did the worksheet just now for this class was that, I had a lot of interest in astronaut, fashion designer. It's a thing. I alternated between those two as things I wanted to do when I was a kid, but I also really liked to play dress up, I really liked to make paper dolls, I especially liked making clothing for those paper dolls, and that's not something that I thought about for a long time, probably not since I made paper dolls. That's something that I'm going to really think about now as a subject for my writing. When you start to think about the section about your teenaged years, you might want to take a break in between the child years and your teenage years just to get yourself back into that mindset, because that's going to be different, and you'll see your interests will have shifted. Probably to romance, probably to beer or whatever your teenage years were like. Just give yourself a little bit of time in between the two of them and do the same kind of process that you did to get into your child mind, to get back into your teenage mind. Maybe that's going to the mall. For me, it would be going to Harris Field across the street from my high school where we had. It might be going to Washington Square Park and remembering sitting there as a teenager for hours and hours. You'll have your own ways of getting back into your teenage mind, but make sure you take the time to do that. You want to give yourself a good amount of time to fill out this worksheet and you may need to do it over a couple of different episodes of working on it because you'll find that at first it will seem hard to access the memories, and then if you walk away and you come back again, it'll get easier. Then after it's all done, set it aside again, and then come back and with your pen or your highlighter, and see what stands out to you. When you're all done, don't forget to post your favorite idea or prompt that came from this exercise on Skillshare and let's move on to the next exercise. 5. 2- Trouble Trouble: In this lesson, we're going to mine all of your problems to get some excellent ideas. I feel like this is the terrific good news exercise because this means that anything bad that happens to you for the rest of your life is very useful. I call this technique, Trouble, Trouble. This is an excellent technique for feeling better about your life, because all of the bad things that happened to you are now your best source for ideas. Janet Burroway said, "In literature, only trouble is interesting." This is a 100 percent true. If you think about any show you've seen on television, problems are introduced in the first 30 seconds, a minute at most. I challenge you, the next time you're watching television to watch for this. Something bad has to happen for things to get interesting. What's more interesting, a forest or a forest fire? Now, you'd probably rather be in a forest that's not on fire. But if you're looking for a story, it's probably more interesting to see the forest that is a flame. What's more interesting, a car or a car wreck? Now, it's better to drive a car that's not wrecked for sure, but much more interesting to think about how the car got wrecked. Finally, what is more of a story, a couple holding hands, or two people fighting? Now, again, for your health, it probably is better to hold hands then to punch, or be punched. But a story is definitely laying in the fight and not in the holding hands. Conflict catches our attention the way nothing else can, because we, as humans are hard wired to detect trouble, to detect conflict. Think about this. You wouldn't have survived very long in the early days if you didn't notice a lion coming your way, the tiger chasing you, the bear about to eat you. So we are programmed to detect trouble. This is why there are rubbernecking delays on the highway. If you are somebody whose attention is pulled by trouble, this is nothing to feel bad about. You're just a normal human being. Conflict and trouble is a basic element of a story. In fact, you can't have a story without it. The basic definition of a story is a character experiencing change through conflict. You can't do it without the conflict. If you think about the most boring story that you've ever heard, one of your friends who you won't mention tell; it's because it had no conflict in it. This is terrific good news because it means that when the very worst things happen to you, you can get the best stories out of them. The writer Nora Ephron, who's written amazing journalism, screenplays, novels, memoirs. She used to share the credo, "Everything is copy." Copy being the term that journalists used to use for anything that was written down. She also said, "I feel bad for the people who don't at some point understand that there's something funny, even the worst things that can happen to you." Even if it's not funny, it's a story. That's been a real comfort to me over my life when bad things have happened and as they have. Because I've realized even at the time, that I was going to get some really good material out of it. For example, when I got divorced, I talked to one of my writer friends about the long sob story. She said at the end of it, take notes. That's what happens when you have writers for friends. She was completely right; I have gotten a lot of material out of that. So here's the catch. Not all conflicts are ideal for stories. The kind of conflicts that you are looking for, are the ones where something important has changed. The change doesn't have to be dramatic, but it should be meaningful to the person that it happens to. So to get you thinking about the conflicts in your life, I've put together this Trouble, Trouble Worksheet. It comes in two parts. The first part is to collect problems. At first you'll probably again freeze up a little bit. So if you're having some trouble thinking through the challenges that you've experienced, I encourage you to first think about things that you've experienced that had been troubling to you in the last week, the last month. Something near in. It doesn't have to be big. It can be something little like it was really hot outside. So you don't think about only life altering challenges. Think about anything that has created a little bit of a problem for you. You can also think about this in terms of the domain. Meaning that, in your personal relationships, have there been any problems? In your family relationships, have there been any problems? Work? You'll definitely find problems in some of those areas. I've filled this out ahead of time. You'll see that, the first part is challenges that you have experienced, and then the second part, is challenges that people you know have experienced. Some people find that easier to do than thinking about their own problems. So if you find that to be the case, go ahead and do that one first. The last part is, challenges that celebrities, politicians, and fictional characters have experienced. This is to get you thinking even more broadly. A problem can be interesting to you that didn't actually happen to you. The next part of the worksheet is to analyze the problem for story. Here's where we're going to get into this idea of the conflict leading to change. You're basically going to restate the challenges that you found in the first part. What is the challenge? When I was filling this out, I picked, it was very hot and gross outside last week, and it was. It was disgusting. So then the next question is, who does it affect the most? You're going to be really tempted to say me, right? Because this is a problem that you're writing about from your own perspective. But I encourage you here to think a little bit more broadly. So yes, the fact that it was hot and gross outside affected me personally the most inside my own self. But was I person who was the most affected by it being hot and gross outside? Probably not. So as I've started to think about it, I thought, okay. Who was more affected by the heat than me. Was it somebody who works outside all the time, somebody who doesn't have air conditioning, somebody who doesn't have a home? Those are people who are really suffering from the heat, right?Who does it affect the most? Maybe it affects people in places that have never gotten quite as hot as we've gotten today in New York City. Maybe it's affecting people in places where it's always hot, and now, it's even hotter. So I'm looking at it. I'm thinking about here raising the stakes. Who are the stakes higher for? So then you start to think about the changes. I do encourage you to go back to yourself here, and I think, okay. Well, what changed for me? Well, I changed my clothes a lot. Lots of sweaty bras. But what about for homeless people? What were some of the changes that they experienced? I don't know. I'll have to do a little research on that. What are some of the changes that people who have to work outside make? Do they wear a cool towel on their necks? Do they have some kind of portable cooling system? Again, an interesting research question, and so on. You get the idea. So then just go through and pick a challenge from the first group. This is the ones that happened to you. The second group, the challenges that have happened to people you know, and the third group, challenges that have happened to people you don't know or imaginary people. You'll probably find that you'll get maybe one idea from one challenge, and 20 ideas from the next, and that's totally normal. When you're done, I'd like you to identify the challenge that was the most fruitful for you. The one that helped you to come up with the most ideas and post that on Skillshare. When you're done, let's move on to the next lesson. 6. 3- Review to Find Ideas: This technique is called review. The idea behind this is that our lives are filled with these small little bits and pieces that don't make a whole lot of sense individually, but when we pull them all together, that's when they become a great idea. As Van Gogh said, ''Great things don't happen all at once. They're from a series of small things brought together.'' That's our inspiration for this exercise. I guess sometimes come to you all at once and that's nice work if you can get it, but very often they come in little bits and pieces, and over time they accrete, and then all of a sudden bam, you've got a great idea. But if you don't have a system for keeping track of them, you'll forget those little bits and pieces, and then when the next little bit and piece comes along, you won't have anything. My process is called review and I do it at the end of my journal writing session every day. What I do is, I think about and write down the things that happened to me, the stuff that sticks in my mind from the previous day. Then, I also write down what my media diet was. That's what I've seen on television, what I've looked for on the Internet, I actually go back and I look at my Google searches. If you want to know who you are, look at what you search for on the Internet. I've created this worksheet for you and this just structures the process that I do in my journal. The first thing that you do, is you think about the things that you've noticed that day. Then, I'll just walk you through it. What did you watch on television? What radio or podcast did you listen to? What did you look at online? If you have an app like the New York Times app, you can actually go back and look at your recently read stories and that can help jog your memory. Then, just anything else that stood out to you. Anything else. It doesn't even matter how small it is. It could be somebody who is talking really loud on the subway and got on your nerves. It could be, I don't know, a shade of lipstick you wore that you really liked. It doesn't matter what it is. The point is just to capture it. You're going to make sense of it later. This is just in my journal, my journal is nothing fancy. It's just a sketch book. I don't really do it in a structured way like I've provided for you. You can feel free to either use the worksheet, or to go freestyle in your journal. Some of the things that I noticed on June 21st were, that I liked the way the branches looked after the rain, they were really green and I thought that was very cool. I noticed that I watched Jane the Virgin, which is a great show if you haven't watched it, and Rachel Maddow. I watched a lot of 30 Rock. I read in the New York Times that the Supreme Court is punting it's most controversial cases until after the election. I noted that Hello Kitty turned 45. The thing is that you can't really tell from one day what this means. It's like when you're looking at it all on your notebook from one day, it's just a whole lot of whatever. What I do, is I actually go through at the end of the month and I take the most interesting bits from each day and I put it into a separate file on my computer. Then, I look at that every month as well, and I look for themes and patterns in there. At this point, I don't really know what's going to jump out at me from this June 21st review, maybe nothing, but maybe there'll be something in it. Sometimes when I'm looking back through the file that I've created, whole ideas just jump out at me. Like, for example, I went a few months ago to an event at the museum of the City of New York that had a panelist that seemed really interesting to me. I needed an idea for a story, for an editor, and bam, it was right there sitting in my review. By the very nature of this technique, you can't rush it. If you use the worksheet that I've provided, you definitely want to print out enough for a week, go through it when it's good for you. Maybe it's nice to do it over your morning coffee, that's how I like to do it. Maybe you'd like to do it at the end of the day. Then, at the end of the week, take stocks. How does all this translate into a prompt or something that could create some writing? What you do is you take one of your observations, or something that you read, or something that you watched on TV and you use it as the beginning of a writing project. I'm going to explain more about how to do that in a later lesson. For now, let me give you a quick example. The way that the bark of trees looks after the rain, the way that it's that super green color, I could write that down and I could start to go from there. I could start to think about a story that might build around that particular mood. I might ask myself if I wanted to write something that was non-fiction. Why does it look that color green? Is there some scientific effect that causes that? I might think about if there was a time in my life that, that color had some resonance for me, and I might use that too as the start of a memoir essay, and so it goes. When you're done with all that, take your juiciest material and share it with us on Skillshare. Now let's move on to the next lesson. 7. 4-Busybodies: So this lesson is called busy bodies, and it's really fun if you are a nosy person and we all are nosy people. I actually learned this technique as a way of learning how to take interview notes, It was assigned to me when I was doing a high school internship and I had to go on the bus or on a subway and eavesdrop on conversation and learn to write it down as I was hearing it, and it turned out that it was both a great way to learn how to take notes and a great source of ideas. So great places to eavesdrop include mass transit, as i said, but also nail salons, beauty parlors anywhere that people gather to talk, coffee houses, bars the drunker the better sometimes parks, you name it anywhere that you can overhear people having a conversation. So the idea here is that you probably don't want to get caught doing this because it's a little bit creepy so i recommend that you wear sunglasses. I recommend that you use your phone to take notes because nobody can really tell if you're texting or if you're actually taking down what people are saying. You can also have your earphones in but not have anything playing. Basically you go totally undercover with this. I do this all the time, I live in New York and so there are a lot of interesting conversations that are going on all around me. I've gotten a lot of interesting ideas for personal finance articles just by paying attention when I've been in an elevator, for example. So what I do is I use the app Ever note on my phone and I have a note that's called overheard, and I just add to it every time I hear something amazing. It's not like I go out and try and overhear what people are saying, but you can't help but overhear. So I make sure that I'm always ready and sometimes if I don't have my phone handy, I just say the thing that I overheard in my head over and over again, so I don't forget it. I've printed out some of them so I can share them with you. So here are some of the funny things that I've overheard; "I'm certified in everything, but I never finish anything", "We should have talked about it as a group first", "I just learned to sit in the back and watch YouTube videos" and "After it goes down, you gag, I'm not lying. I had my daughter taste it" "We had brunch and then we went day drinking all day", "I was like, This is my house. They also trashed the place". "Most of the time it's fine". All of these are funny on their own, but they make excellent prompts for fiction so as an example of how this might work, let's take the one that seems like it's the most funny; "After it goes down, you gag and I'm not lying. I had my daughter taste it". Now, I don't know anything else about this conversation or the circumstances behind this event, this is just what I overheard a woman saying, whilst she was talking on the phone, but I can imagine what type of a person might have her daughter taste something that's so gross that made her gag. I can imagine the types of circumstances under which that might happen. I can start to imagine who that daughter is, how old is that daughter? What's going to happen to her after having such a mother?, and that is how you start to build a story. So go out and try this a couple of times. You might want to go out once just to eavesdrop, just to stay focused and on task. But really the best things are gonna happen when you're not distracting yourself with your phone and when you're really just paying attention to what's happening around you. So after you're done with that, take your favorite thing that you've overheard, bonus points for being funny, but it doesn't have to be funny and shared on skill share. And when you're done with that, let's move on to the next lesson. 8. 5-Found Words: For this last technique, we're going to be using one of my favorite creative tools, which is randomness. What we're going to do is we're going to be looking for ideas in words that have been published in other contexts. This was a technique that was brought into use by the survey-lists who didn't believe that things should have logical connections to have their most creative value. We're going to adapt that and come up with some really amazing ideas. For this lesson, we're not going to be filling out any worksheets and you're not going to be sitting with the journal. Instead, we're going to go old school, all the way back to kindergarten. We're going to be using, I guess you didn't use scissors like this in kindergarten, but scissors, held the safe way, and glue stick if you'd like. Then it doesn't really matter what kind of paper you have, but I suggest you use a darker one. This is just some card stock in any pretty color that you'd like or you could just use white. You're also going to need some source of words, and so I found this magazine, which I'm sure is a wonderful magazine in the recyclable bin in my building. You can also rage your junk mail. I have a junk mail envelope. I have a catalog, catalogs are great for this, another catalog. It doesn't even really matter what source you're using for words, just make sure it has a lot of words in it. I wanted to show you an example of where we might be heading. This is more of an art piece, but it is found word writing. What I did was I took a magazine from the 1950's and I pulled out different words. You can see I used really small words here. The font was really small, and so I had to use an exacto knife and blade, which I'm not going to show you how to do today, but if you know how to use it, please go ahead and do it. I made a little story from what I found then I can just read it. The fall from fairy primroses. It would be nice to collect time tail she should suddenly shatter this ever blooming composition. Just a plain perfect foil. How about a crown of laurels or something, or a puppet show? It's really nauseating. This functions as a little poem with a piece of art behind it. But I could also take any one of these panels and use them as an individual prompt for more stories. For example, the fall from fairy primroses; what does that mean? How could I develop that into a story? Or it's really nauseating, which could be a great first-line to a story. I'm going to show you how I might approach this and I haven't worked this all out before, so it's a great adventure. We don't know what's going to happen. I went ahead and cleared off my workspace because I like to have a little bit of clean room to work on. What you do is you just take your piece of paper that you're going to use as your background. You're not going to be gluing anything down right away, so don't worry about that. What I've done is, over time, I just pull interesting texts from magazines or junk mail or whatever, and I keep it in this folder, conveniently titled text. But assuming you don't have one of those already, you just take a magazine that you don't mind cutting up and you just start looking through it and you just think, what are some of these words that might be interesting here? I like this word living, not necessarily the country piece of it. I'm just going to go and cut it out. I'm not really worried about how I'm cutting it out. It doesn't really matter at this point. Just trim it out, set them aside. You can see I've already ravaged this magazine at different times. Make over your bedroom, don't know. Oh good boy, I like that. Cute dog. Always happy with a dog. If you see some images that you like, go ahead and pull them too. I'm not going to do that right now. But it's always nice to have some options. It doesn't really matter what kind of magazines that you have. I do like a magazine that has a little bit of a higher paper quality. If it's something like one of those celebrity throwaway magazines, I guess they're not called that officially, that paper doesn't tend to hold up very well to being manipulated, and so that's maybe not as good, but other than that, anything really goes. I like sometimes just cutting out phrases and I might just cut out either some of the letters, I might just even use the question mark from this, but it's nice to have. One more from here. Wild. Just get the wild. This is just obviously an envelope from one of the millions of credit card offers that we get flooded with. I actually grabbed it because I think the paper is pretty, it's so shiny. But you know what? The word "match" could be interesting, so just let's grab that. This is really great if you like being a garbage picker as I really like, or if you like going to throw shops, and you like going to vintage stores and finding really old magazines. I really like that. This here is just a catalog. Catalogs can have repetitive words, which can be useful. If you wanted to do something with off, off, off, off, it could be really fun. I'm not going to do that today, but that's something that you can bear in mind if you want something with a lot of repetitive words in it. A catalog can be a really great source for that. Let's see. I like this over here, little phrase. I'm going to also reach into my little grab bag here. Here, I have stuff that I've pulled from all different kinds of magazines. Some of them are in English, that's really fun. But I will stick in English today. This is from a vintage magazine. I've even pulled things that I've written in my own handwriting and I throw it in there because you never know. You have a nice little pile. Give yourself options, you don't need to have a stack the size of the world, but it is good to have a few different options. Nice little bunch. You just start to see what you got and you use your paper for this, your background paper. Let's see. We have: own it, for our traveling party. How about this. Own it, relief. You can really feel relief. Basically, what you're doing is you're taking different words and you're throwing them down onto your paper. It's just like you're playing a game, and you're looking for meaning in the randomness. What about wild relief? I like that, wild relief. Own it. You can really feel wild relief. That's interesting. I like this and, and. Let's see. Vacation, with a question mark maybe. You can really feel wild relief, wild vacation relief. That's funnier. You're looking for words that maybe don't normally tract together in a sentence, and that will really shake out some interesting things. I like this right here; you can really feel wild vacation relief. If I wanted to, I could glue this down now. I could take my phone and I could take a picture of it, and then just keep going. I'm actually just going to keep the question mark from that because the questions are good. Let's see what we got here, which could be fun. I like this build. Let's see, some other words here that I'm going to get rid of. Let's say, the word "premium" seems interesting, cut that right out. Let's see what else do we have here. Shred your cat's expectations. I also have things that I've cut off of food packages. You can do this, like I have the word tone here, but you can always cut out the t and make the word, one. Let's see, build one, premium, what? Let's see. We can just do builder, which is actually how it was initially. When you feel stuck is sometimes when you find the most interesting things happening. I just got this idea, build one premium good boy. What does that mean? I don't know. That's what you got to do as a writer, is figure out what it means, build one premium good boy. This feels really different from the other prompts that you've worked with because you're actually moving the words around physically and not just on a screen. They also have different colors and different shapes to them. They are different sizes, which creates emphasis. You can play with them and you can bring that out as you start to develop these prompts into a more complete piece of writing. You're going to want to do 10 of this. Although, that seems like a lot, bear in mind, you don't have to change all of it. You can just change one or two words, which will totally change the meaning. You can make, build one premium good boy into one premium detour. Even removing the question mark makes a different kind of the sentence. You can vary the order of the words and see if you come up with something else. You can read the words backwards, and sometimes that comes up with something interesting. The point is that you can just do it anyway that you want to, you can dump it all off and start all over again. But come up with 10 and snap a pic of the one that you like the best. Take a picture of the one you like the best and share it on Skillshare. I can't wait to see what you do. In our next lesson we're going to look at how to develop all these prompts into first drafts. 9. Tips for Getting to a First Draft : So now that you have all of these prompts and ideas, what do you do with them? How do you develop them further? On their own, they are not really that much. They're more like just little embryos or little jams and ideas that have to develop into something bigger. I like that Stephen King called this kind of glimmers, fossils in the ground. That you have to excavate and brush off the dirt. You just see them a little bit sticking out on the ground and then an amazing thing emerges and it turns out that it's this entire dinosaur. So that's what we're going to do now. We're going to try and figure out how do you take these little bits and pieces that you've gathered from looking back at your past, from looking at your day, from eavesdropping and turning them into a first draft. The first thing that you want to do is, you want to think about what it is that you're trying to write. What you need to do to develop an idea is different if you're writing a piece of fiction versus writing a piece of nonfiction. As different if you're writing a short story versus a novel, versus a poem, versus a play. The first thing that you want to do is really decide on the genre that you want to write in. If your idea is that you want to do something that's an essay or something that's nonfiction, you're probably going to want to do a little bit of research first, versus if it's a short story that you're thinking of, or a novel. You'll probably want to sit down with pen in hand or on your keyboard and start to really spin it out and pull your imagination into it. Generally, what you want to do is, you want to force a connection between whatever the prompt is and the thing that you want to write about it. This is generally how ideas work. It's forcing a connection between two unlike things and creating something new. Let's take an example from my Getting Smaller Worksheet. Something that really got under my skin when I was a teenager was censorship. I went to learn science and I wanted to start an underground newspaper because I didn't like the official school newspaper and my idea was to call this newspaper No More BS. I thought it was really funny, but it was not allowed. The rules specifically prohibited leafleting. So how would I use that if, say, I wanted to write a work of fiction or novel? If I had already a character in mind, I might think about how that character might face the obstacle of censorship or maybe they're the person in the position to be doing the censorship. Maybe some kind of self-satisfied bureaucrat, and what would be the motivation behind that? I could start to think about it in those terms. So if I were thinking about this as an essay, I might be thinking first of all, about just sharing my experience with what happened in school and maybe reflecting on what it's like in other countries that have either greater or lesser degrees of censorship for their young people. I might reflect on what that might mean today, given that it's not as useful since we have social media. I can take it in a lot of different directions or what if I wanted to write a sci-fi story about what happens when, say a country gets rocketed back to a time before the Internet and maybe even before technology and you have to reinvent paper and make paper on papyrus and start the whole publishing process all over again from scratch and then thinking about that, gave me an idea for an actual essay, which is that I learned how to make paper a few summers ago out of a T-shirt and then I also learned how to make ink and so maybe I could do an essay on recreating the whole publishing process by hand. These ideas are not necessarily the best and I may not pursue any of them, but you can start to see how this works. One of the beauties of this is that this isn't just like somebody has handed me a topic of censorship and said write something about it. I probably would come up with something different if I was just handed that as an assignment and I needed to come up with something versus having gone through the process of getting smaller, thinking things through, remembering my experience in high school, and that whole experience will flavor the writing that comes out of it and make it much more personal. If you're not just talking about your ideas on camera, you're probably going to want to start to write these things down. My two favorite ways to develop prompts into writing are free writing and mind mapping. Free writing is exactly what it sounds like. You just take out your pen, or you get into your keyboard and you start writing. Its vomiting on the page. Some people even call it a vomit draft. Which is a perfectly good way of thinking about it. The idea here is that you don't censor yourself at all and if you get bored, which you will and you get stuck, which you will, instead of stopping and going to go check Instagram, you keep writing. You have to write until the time is up and so if you really get stuck, you can just write over and over again. I'm stuck. I'm bored.I don't know what to do. I don't know what to say. This is really boring, and at some point you're going to bore yourself to the point that you'll come up with something else. I know it sounds like it may not happen, but it happens each and every time. A way that free writing really works best is if you set a timer because if you just tell yourself you have to write until you're all done, that doesn't really give you enough structure to go on, but if you set an alarm and literally set an alarm on your phone or use a kitchen timer and make it short, make it ten minutes. Anybody can do anything for ten minutes, and then write and do not stop no matter what. Free writing is really good when you have a phrase, maybe something that you got from your found word exercise or something that you found from eavesdropping. Free writing can be a great way of starting to put some meat on those bones, but if you have something that feels very abstract to you and you can't really start writing, mind mapping is the way to go. Mind mapping is just what it sounds like. You're making a visual map of how your mind works. Basically, what you do is, you take your concept that you're working on and you put it down in the middle of your page and then you spoke out from there. Free associating as you go and then you go back to the next level and you spoke out again, free associating as you go and so on and so forth. Mind mapping can be a whole big topic in and of itself and if you're interested in learning more about mind mapping, I'll share Barrel's (phonetic) class here on Skillshare. Mind Maps can be really simple, or they can actually be full-fledged works of art. You can, again get really precious with this and for me, although I like beautiful things, I make them really simple Mind Maps that are not much to look at and I make them all the time. Here's one from my journal. You can see not much to look at, not very pretty and it's really simple. I was interested in blowing out the idea of things that repeat and so I just put things that repeat in the middle and then I started spoking off of that, free associating, seasons, reruns on television, karma, burping, time, and then I just wrote down over and over and then from over and over, I free associated to routine, regulation, expected, and so on. At first I couldn't remember what I did this mind map for because I did it a few weeks ago, but it was actually for a visual art project. I was trying to be able to show visually something that repeats the idea of routine and so this helped me to get to the idea. First of all, the circle and the spiral that I definitely wanted to use, and the seasons which I definitely wanted to use and I'm not sure that I would have gotten to it if I hadn't done a mind map. You can see that this can be relevant for any sort of creative medium. I'm going to go ahead and show you how I do a mind map, and I'm going to take an example that came up in the review exercise, which is that Hello Kitty turns 45. I'm going to write down Hello Kitty turns 45 in the middle of my page-ish and make a circle around it. Then I start to think about what do I associate with Hello Kitty? I think she's from Japan. Elementary school is when I first became obsessed with Hello Kitty. My first car was pink and we called it a Hello Kitty car. So I'll write first car, stickers, she was on stickers and smelly erasers. I have my first rung of associations and so then I can take one of these and expand it further. Let's say elementary school. What else happened in elementary school? Let's see. Lisa Frank (phonetic) is the first thing that comes to mind. She was also cool in elementary school. Madonna. Joanne, my very good friend, recess and then I might go even further out from there. So I might think recess. Let's see. Pizzazz. I started a jazz troupe called Pizzazz at recess, that's funny to think about and Joanne was in there so I can connect that. Let's see what else. Madonna. There were these bracelets that we all used to wear, and that was something else we collected and actually this is all turning into something about collections. So I might do that. And then you could go and you could do each of these and really, there's no limit. Then you just want to keep going, and you can take any one of these and you can turn it into it's own center and keep spoking off of it and you can see that there's really no limit to how you can take one idea and develop it into many other directions. So if you have an example of free writing that you really like and, or a mind map, please upload it to Skillshare, so we can see what you did. 10. Recap: So you did it.You came up with so many ideas and I bet your brain is buzzing right now and I bet you're also feeling a little tired, which is just how you should be failing. So to recap, we went over five different techniques for generating ideas. We talked about getting smaller and mining your childhood and your teenage years for ideas. We talked about trouble and how it's useful for ideas and how to turn your problems into ideas. We talked about review and how you can go over your daily life and your media diet to find fantastic prompts. And then we talked about eavesdropping and the tool of busy bodies, using your nosiness to come up with ideas. Finally, we talked about using a collage technique called 'Found words' to come up with really creative ideas. So I'm really curious to know which technique you found most useful. Please share that. Think about which technique you like the best and why. And think about how you might adapt it for regular use in your creative life. You might combine elements from a couple of them. You might tweak something to make it more your own and that's fantastic. That's just what you ought to be doing. It's really fun to come up with ideas. And sometimes we get a little stuck in only coming up with ideas and we never develop them. And I think that at a certain point that becomes a trap because if you are continually developing ideas and you're never putting them into practice, eventually your idea machine will start to run a little creaky. So it's really important that in order to have a good flow of ideas that you're developing them and you're pushing them along and pushing them out. The reality is that writing doesn't do anyone a whole lot of good inside your head. And it doesn't do anyone a whole lot of good if it's stuck inside your computer and you never send it anywhere. So use this as a place to start. Use this as a way to launch your writing career. So thank you so much for joining me today. I hope you had a great time and you came up with so many great ideas. Happy brainstorming and happy writing.