I have three great, new story ideas to share with you.

The first one:

What happens when a young girl on a dairy farm decides to milk a cow?

The second one:

What happens when a father clown fish must rescue his captured son halfway across the ocean?

And finally, the third one:

What happens when a monster made of broccoli makes a breakthrough discovery in epigenetics?

See? Aren’t those the most amazing stories you’ve ever heard of? Aren’t you completely captivated by all of their seemingly infinite possibilities?


Wait. A. Minute.

confusedDo you remember when I said I had “great, new story ideas” to share with you? Yeah. Um, I was wrong. Actually, I was dead wrong. Clearly, I didn’t provide you with anything great and new. The first one sounded woefully boring – of course people on dairy farms milk cows. The second one was lifted from Pixar’s Finding Nemo. And a story about a monster made of broccoli who loves epigenetics just seems absurd.

So, not great, new story ideas after all. Either your friend Neil is totally off his rocker, or another point is being made here.

The truth is that each of us who writes creatively is constantly confronted by a nasty, often debilitating reality in putting something of value out into the world: the blank page. The very first step in taking an idea we have and putting it out into the world is opening up to an empty page in our notebooks or a white screen in Microsoft Word. Then, we have the usually daunting task of putting that idea down in some sort of coherent way.

But, what often comes out can be described like one of the three ideas that headed this post – boring, derivative, absurd. There are many other negative qualifiers that could be used as well.

Let me ask you a question, though. Does the fact that these are poor ideas mean that the story that is eventually put in front of someone to read will be that way as well?

The reason why so many of us are daunted by a blank page is because we are afraid of putting something down that isn’t any good. We start to write, but then we think about how bad what we’re writing ultimately is. Then we give up. Or, even worse, we don’t even write anything at all. We put off writing something until we feel better about it, which never happens.

However, putting something bad down on the page is way, way better than not putting anything down at all. We can always revise. But while we might be able to intellectualize that concept – better to write poorly than write nothing at all – it can be immensely difficult to put it into practice. We can still be afraid of putting down something awful.

But what if there was a way around that as well?

This is where the absurd story from the beginning of this post re-enters the scene. To start this post, I needed to come up with an idea that wasn’t a boring dairy farm thing nor something derived from a Pixar movie. To do this, I simply started writing down a bunch of things from my day:

broccoliThe oatmeal I ate for breakfast

The broccoli I had with dinner last night

The cookies on sale at the café where I was working

The mail I had to pick up after my work session

The fact that the café was closing in a few minutes

The research on epigenetics that I did for a client’s project that morning

Then, I simply chose two things and paired them up to make that silly premise about the monster: What happens when a monster made of broccoli makes a breakthrough discovery in epigenetics?

Where am I going with this? In simply writing down a bunch of items, I practiced a small exploration of what we all know as brainstorming. I simply wrote down random items and then chose from them when moving forward. This spewing out of random stuff can play an absolutely crucial role in overcoming writer’s block. By simply listing off a bunch of items, we give ourselves the opportunity to get started.

To. Get. Started.

And then, we no longer have a blank page. And once we have put some ridiculous ideas on the page, we can then pick one of them and brainstorm even further. Consider this:

What happens when a monster made of broccoli makes a breakthrough discovery in epigenetics?

What happens when a geneticist isolates a gene that causes a regular man to grow into a monster?

What happens when a geneticist isolates a gene that allows a full-grown adult to grow even further?

As you can see, in three steps I went from a story that was totally absurd to a story that might actually have potential – what if a person could actually grow to beyond their full size because of genetic manipulation? Whether the story turns out good – or has even been done before – isn’t really the point. The point is that I would never have gotten to a passable story idea without first indulging an absurd one.

We can do this both in starting a story, and when we get stuck for finding a solution in a work-in-progress. At any point when you’re uncertain of how to move forward, all you need to do is come up with five, ten, or a hundred ideas. Then, pick the best one. Move forward. Keep writing.

Our ability to write a story that works is entirely based on our ability to work past something that doesn’t work. And by simply writing down ideas and then picking the best one, we will never be daunted by writer’s block again.

Maybe you’ve already written a good majority of your story and have started to think about publishing. If you’re curious about whether to pursue a traditional deal or self-publish, check out my free cheat sheet here.


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