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What If

So you’re having a hard time coming up with ideas, eh?

I feel ya. I haven’t written anything substantial in over 2 years (since I finished my less than good first draft of a first novel, to be honest). And I think it’s slowly killing me. It’s not that I haven’t had ideas, I think it’s that I’ve held onto my ideas so tightly, worried that I wouldn’t be able to do them justice. Instead, I don’t even try.

Think of it like exercise. You need it to stay healthy, but does that mean I’m going to be able to get my butt out of bed every morning to run? Hell no. In fact, most days I have a hard time remembering to even take a walk. When I do exercise, even something as small as a walk, I feel energized and refreshed. I end up wondering why I always forget how good it makes me feel and I promise to never cut it out of my schedule again.

But I forget that when I’m stuck in bed surrounded by a mound of pillows. Every damn time.

The same is true with writing. I’m of the opinion that doing it keeps me sane in a way nothing else can. Yet, I have a hard time putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Even now that it’s NaNoWriMo, I’m writing a blog to get my word count for the day up rather than writing scenes for my novel because I believe my words won’t be that good anyway and I have no good ideas.

Fortunately for me, and everyone else out there, there are so many ways to get yourself writing again. I’m here to help.

Sticking Ideas Together

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, I believe, partly began by asking what it would be like if your dog could talk to you. For those that have read the book, you know that Ness didn’t take the idea in the same directions others had, giving animals the intelligence of humans. Instead, he gave a boy who didn’t want one a dog and that dog could talk, but only in a way that dogs could.

“Poo, Todd.”

And although Todd doesn’t always have nice things to say about his dog that literally tells him when he has to poo, ultimately Todd loves Manchee and wouldn’t have survived without him. This integral part of the plot came to Ness and answered many of the questions I’m sure he had when writing the novel.

But that one idea wasn’t enough for Ness. Instead, he stuck it back into his mind until, as he puts it, another idea stuck to it. For him, the talking animals stuck to an idea about an information overload and to one about an illiterate boy. That’s all he had to go on when building his novel. Might I say it worked out really well for him?

I read somewhere that you can build a whole world by asking what if.

  • What if aliens invaded the planet?
  • What if your significant other broke up with you right before your wedding?
  • What if aliens invaded your wedding right after your significant other broke your heart?
  • What if your significant other left you for one of those aliens?

These are silly examples, but there are plenty of books that were built using this idea.

One such author who loves asking what if is Laini Taylor whose Daughter of Smoke and Bone series is a play on Romeo and Juliet with monsters and regeneration. To her, ideas come when you make them come. And ideas are limitless. It’s the work you put into them that really makes a writer.

As a side note: people have mentioned before that they are nervous other writers might steal their ideas. To which I say: let them. If someone is bold enough to take an idea you come up with and to spend the countless number of hours it takes to throw their heart and soul into a novel about that idea? Then it might not be just yours in the first place.

Elizabeth Gilbert has a fantastic theory on ideas. I believe something similar.


There are so many different ways to brainstorm ideas. Just google writing prompts and you’ll come up with more ways than you can count. What you need to do is find ways of generating ideas that work for you. If that means building a world that answers all the what if questions you can think of, great. If it means scouring all the public places you can to eavesdrop on people for hidden treasures, so be it. If it means taking a classic and turning it on its head, by all means do so, I loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone and would certainly buy something else as well crafted.

What I do say is this: don’t hold on to your ideas such that they become sacred to you. Ideas want to be expressed and sooner of later, that perfect idea you’ve come up with will find someone who will turn it into reality if you don’t. Sure it won’t be in the exact way you could have, but you don’t want to kick yourself by asking what if for a totally different reason.

What ideas are you holding on to, too scared to write? Ask yourself what would happen if you could put them to page. Why not start today?

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