When coming up with ideas for your writing, don’t use what first comes to the top of your head. Why? Because there’s a good chance that first ideas we come up are cliché and overused. We need to resist the temptation of using these preliminary thoughts as they are not the best we can come up with.
As one of my creative writing professors explained to us, coming up with ideas is like shopping for produce at the grocery store.
When grocers put new vegetables in their proper place, they don’t just simply put the new on top of the old. This would mean that the old tomatoes would remain at the bottom of the pile and never get picked. They would rot at the bottom of the container. So what grocers do instead is they put the new tomatoes at the bottom and the old on the top. Most everyone picks from the top because that’s easiest to pick from.
But if shoppers want to get the newest, freshest tomatoes, they need to ignore what is easily presented to them and reach deep into the container.
We as writers need to select our ideas in the same way. We can’t simply take the idea that first comes to us, the idea at the top of the pile. That’s what everyone does. If we want to get fresher more original ideas, then we need to reach deeper into our imaginations. That’s where the fresher more original ideas lie.
And just as we find fresh tomatoes are better tasting than old tomatoes, our audiences find fresh ideas more compelling than old, overused ideas.
A practical way of coming up with fresh ideas is to make a list. When you sit down to brainstorm (for ideas on plot, setting, character, etc.), you can write down all the ideas–even the ones that are the first to pop into your head. Once you have your list, look it over.
Are the ideas at the top of the list–your preliminary ideas–cliché and overused? Are the ideas towards the bottom of the list more creative (and perhaps more fun and bizarre) than those on the top of the list?
Scratch out the unoriginal ideas (probably those on the top of the list) and start thinking about what you can do with your fresh ideas (probably the items on your list that you didn’t think of at first).
Give this exercise a try. Let me know if your creativity was stretched. Share your thoughts and experience in the comments below.