Top 10 Ideation Techniques for Writers

Sadia Alam posted under Writing Tips on 2021-09-19

For many of us, writing is a form of self-expression, a creative outlet, catharsis, and much more. However, at times, have you sat in front of a blank sheet flummoxed, not able to jot down a single word? You have many ideas, but when it comes to executing them, you draw a blank? Or perhaps, you are a novice, ready to take the plunge but not sure where to begin? Or do you feel that you have peaked and are going through a major slump? Fret not! You are not alone.


Just do it.

Then again.

Then some more.

And more.

Do not wait for inspiration; if you do enough of it often enough, inspiration will eventually come. -Nancy Kress The objective of this article is to suggest ideation techniques to get creative juices up and running.

1. Brainstorming. Even before pen touches paper, one needs to brainstorm. Make sure that your environment is conducive. You cannot listen to the creative nudges in your brain if there is too much noise outside. Choose a quiet and peaceful spot. Social Media and other distractions? A big no-no. A calm and relaxed mind is fertile ground for imagination. Idea generation doesn’t have to be a solo activity. Engage with like-minded friends and have healthy debates. It’s always great to have a fresh pair of eyes to take a look at your ideas.

2. Writing prompts: Prompts can help by giving direction to your thoughts. Attempt different prompts in different genres. Try diverse styles and topics until you zero in on your sweet spot. There is no dearth of subjects to write about- a Google search throws up a lengthy list of writing prompts. Alternatively, you may choose to join online platforms to enhance your writing skills.

3. Visual Cues: Look for visual cues- stock images, photographs from a magazine, pictures on social media, or a sketch someone did. Ask yourself questions about the image. Let’s illustrate with a simple example: a lady standing by a field of corn, watching the sunset. Who is she? Why is she waiting? What emotions is she going through? What is her backstory? What happens after the sun sets?

4. Jot it down: Write down all your ideas- either on Post-its, in a diary, or in your phone’s notes. Seek inspiration from everywhere. We are surrounded by ideas, waiting for someone to choose them and develop them into full-fledged stories. You don’t know when inspiration and the next bestselling idea will hit you. Stephanie Meyer visualized the plot for the Twilight series from a vivid dream she had. JK Rowling visualized the story for Harry Potter on a crowded train. JRR Tolkien, the author of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, noticed a blank page in one of the answer sheets he was marking. In that blank space, he wrote, “In a hole in the ground lived a Hobbit.” You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it. -Neil Gaiman

5. Mind-Mapping: Mind-Mapping is a cognitive technique to help visualize thoughts better. Write down your main idea on a piece of paper and draw a circle around it. Jot down related words around this circle. These words branch out from the central theme. Keep adding new words and connecting them to the existing words. Use colours and shapes to demarcate words. This technique helps you structure, organize, and form patterns and associations. One of the greatest minds of all time, Da Vinci, used Mind-Mapping to articulate his thoughts.

6. Research: At various points in the writing process, you will need to do extensive research. Especially if your genre demands it. You could consider incorporating research at the ideation stage. If you have the prompt in mind, read up more about it. Perhaps an isolated historical incident will set light the creative fires in you. Perhaps, an innocuous quote or anecdote will give you your much-needed inspiration.

7. Outlining: Select the ideas that resonate with you the most. Once you have locked your idea, create an outline. One does not want the story to meander aimlessly. The structure is only a skeletal framework. You have the freedom to alter the course of the story while writing it. During the actual writing process, you can make your characters more nuanced and script their narratives.

8. Question-based approach: What is your central message? What do you want the reader to take away from this story? Why does a character act in a certain way? How does he achieve his goal? What are the conflicts he faces? What are the emotional decisions he must make? How will he triumph? What are the consequences? While answering these questions, you are already fleshing out your story.

9. Sleep on it: There are times when you might get stuck. Do not get worked up. A walk, a nap, or a change of scenery will get you back on track. Many established writers take breaks in between to recharge and rejuvenate. It helps improve their productivity as well. Its OK to take these short breaks as long as you are persistent and keep coming back to you work, one word at a time. When asked, ‘How do you write?’ I invariably answer, ‘one word at a time’. -Stephen King

10. Read: If there is one technique that can generate ideas- that’s reading. To be a good writer, you need to be a good reader. Read all types of books- fiction, non-fiction. Try to read every genre. Read as many authors as you can and study their styles. Read a thousand books, and your words will flow like a river. ― Lisa See Happy Ideation and happy writing!