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Unhooking your idea from its source

All about you

Over the last few posts I’ve been talking about how to come up with ideas for your writing. These techniques can work whether you’re a blogger, a fiction writer or a nonfiction writer – in fact they work for almost any kind of writing.

Unhook your idea

At some point, you need to unhook the idea from its original contexts (or at least some of them). Think of it like snipping the strings on a bunch of balloons. Once you’ve done that you can manipulate the idea in any way you want to. If you used the techniques I suggested in this week’s posts, you don’t ‘owe’ anything to the original concept or its source. In this post, I’ll explain what I mean with a couple of examples.

You’ll find the posts with the relevant exercises in them under ‘three creative tools that will help you come up with ideas’ and ‘using the one thing you know most about to come up with ideas (yourself)’ in this list of posts on idea generation.

Obviously if you interviewed or quoted someone else, or if you’re discussing an idea you read about somewhere, you need to give that person or source a shout out – that’s different – here I’m talking about making new or unusual connections with the original ideas you collated through observation, freewriting and mind mapping or any other exercise designed to bypass the inner censor.

Traffic awareness

Say you used the observation technique I talked about in this post, and came up with ‘traffic’. In order to use this idea, it helps to realise that you don’t have to write about the cars and lorries outside your home or what you were doing when you saw them. In fact, you don’t even have to talk about actual cars and lorries. Once you unhook ‘traffic’ as an idea from its source (the traffic going past your window) it could refer to:

  • web traffic,
  • a journey,
  • the world’s worst traffic jams,
  • footfall in your gift-shop,
  • the traffic jam that will be crucial to the plot in your short story or your novel – perhaps ‘traffic’ helps you to solve a plot hole,
  • a time you were stuck in the back of a car filled with your family – that could inspire a poem.

Various cushions – metaphorical and literal

Let’s take another example. Say I noticed ‘cushions’ during the observation exercise in this post. Seems sort of ordinary and uninspiring, right? But what could ‘cushion’ stand for if it was unhooked from its source? Here are a few possibilities:

  • a financial cushion,
  • a course in interior design,
  • inserting a time cushion or an interim deadline before an crucial  deadline,
  • the sort of cushions you might take on an elegant picnic,
  • the cushion the murderer in your murder mystery uses to suffocate his victims
  • your grandmother’s embroidery.

Moving away from the sofa

I’ve only been able to think of these second-level ideas because I let go of the idea that I was sitting on my sofa with my own comfy but shabby cushions looking out of the window at the occasional passing car at the time I was coming up with the list of observations. Here’s the crucial point: I got to the second-level – and potentially more interesting – ideas through the process of unhooking.

Have a go

Try this for yourself. Take the ideas you came up with based on the exercises in the previous posts on this topic. Try to forget about the thing that inspired the idea (my sofa cushions or the view from the window in my case!) and think instead about the different meanings of the word or the different situations where this thing could come  up.

There’s no need to think about the usefulness of the ideas at this stage as this can hamper your creative thinking. You can do that later. It’s easier to look at a list of ideas and decide which could be useful than to try to filter by usefulness from the start. More on that in the next post.

Let me know how you get on in the comments.

More soon. Until then, happy writing.

Louise xx

P.S. If you’re a blogger and want more on coming up with ideas for your blog, go here.


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