The More You Write, The More Ideas You’ll Have

Millie Ho The More You Write The More Ideas You'll Have

My brainstorming book, ft. nonchalant teen character.

I used to think that I would run out of ideas if I wrote too much. This fear drained my ability to write at times. But it made sense, right? Your mind can only generate so much content in a lifetime, and eventually you’ll just end up rewriting your existing ideas. Or worse, you could hit a brick wall that won’t move no matter how hard you slam into it. Writer’s block could last for days, months, years—and it’s always worse knowing that you’ve actually hit your ceiling than for it to remain a vague possibility looming in the background.

Now that I’ve been writing consistently every day and haven’t run out of ideas yet, I’d like to correct some of my misconceptions. Perhaps you can relate!

Misconception #1: I’ll become a parody of myself.  

I had a fear that I would just be rehashing the same ideas over and over. But I haven’t reached the kind of output to qualify for self-parody status yet, not by a long shot. And if I become a parody of myself, so what? At least there’s something to parody, at least I’ll know what I’m all about. So there’s no need to worry about things that haven’t happened yet. Just focus on what needs to be written today.

Misconception #2: I need to come up with insanely original ideas.

Nope, not really. There are infinite ways you can tell the same story. I’ve been reading How To Write A Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey, which is a very helpful classic on storytelling, and one section in particular caught my eye:

How many novels could be written on the Samson and Delilah theme? Dozens and dozens. Ever read a story in which a plain but deserving girl finally marries Mr. Wonderful? It has been done a trillion times and will be done a trillion times more.

The key differentiator is not in the idea itself, Frey suggests, but in how the writer executes the idea. Remembering this helped redirect my focus from brainstorming to revising. After all, the real magic happens during the editing process, when the writer demonstrates how their story stands out. Originality comes from execution.

Misconception #3: It’s bad to produce crappy ideas.  

Sure, I believe in quality over quantity just as much as the next person, but how do you develop quality? You need to generate lots of crappy ideas first! The more I jot down all new ideas, the more good ideas I get along with the bad ones. And sometimes it’s not even the initial idea that materializes into the final story, but a secondary idea that branched off the main one. Knowing this has encouraged me to keep writing and generating new ideas, even if they don’t go anywhere. You never know when the stars will align.

My Experience With Writing Stories Daily 

It all started a few months ago, when I wrote new stories to take my mind off Draft One of my manuscript so that I could revise it objectively. My first few ideas were bad. They resembled half-formed thoughts and I failed multiple times trying to stretch them into stories. But I persisted. I worked on one story for a few days, set it aside and started a new one, then edited the first one after I finished the second one. Rinse and repeat, over and over.

Eventually something interesting happened: my ideas began to get better. My execution of these ideas also improved. I also began to see ideas everywhere: an overheard conversation in a restaurant, a random song lyric that formed the basis of a character sketch. Since I now believed I won’t run out of ideas, I began to see the ideas I would’ve missed if I hadn’t been looking.

Consistency Is key

I tried doing something like this in the past, but I didn’t stick with it consistently. As a result, my ability to ideate turned rusty. Eventually, I falsely believed that I was incapable of brainstorming new and better ideas. But it’s like exercising, really: it’s inefficient to start, stop for a few weeks, and then pick up the dumbbells again. To properly strengthen the writing muscle, I need to keep exercising every single day.

My experience has taught me that you won’t run out of ideas.

You’ll just get better at recognizing and developing them.

——-

Millie’s Note: What’s your experience?

The Hammer

William Klein Family Millie Ho Short Story

The best you can ever hope for is to stay out of prison.

Gavin replayed his stepfather’s words in his head as he jumped the fence and landed in his parents’ backyard.

He’d been kicked out of the house a week earlier for doing something he couldn’t even remember. Was it for speaking out against the stepfather gambling his mother’s wages away? Or was it for hitting his stepsister after he saw her not only steal the rum Gavin had stashed under his bed, but also freaking lick the excess liquid off the bottle with her gross, bumpy tongue in order to hide her crime?

It didn’t matter. What mattered now was his stepfather’s dog sleeping in the doghouse. Gavin pulled the dog out by its tail, and then held on to the leash when the dog started twisting and yelping.

“Shut up, fugly bitch,” Gavin said, and tugged on the leash hard.

The dog looked like no other dog in the neighbourhood. It had long, black fur that hung down its sturdy body like dreads. When it pounced the dreads flailed about like a mop. Gavin couldn’t see the dog’s eyes. All he saw was the long black coat and the red floppy tongue. Creepy as hell.

Gavin grunted as he continued dragging the dog towards the shed. He still wasn’t sure what he was going to do, but it was going to be something that would make a statement. The shed contained all his father’s tools. Gavin remembered the slingshot-propelled cart he and his father had built together for a middle school project. His mother had told him it would be easier to just buy a kit from some toy store, but Gavin had enjoyed toiling over the building of the thing with his father, liked seeing how the pieces fitted and were put together.

Now he was going to use the same tools to take the pieces apart, he decided. He set the dog in the middle of the shed and fastened the leash to the workbench leg. The dog started yelping and Gavin shut the door. He turned on the lights. He looked around the crowded space for the first time since his father was killed. There were cobwebs everywhere, in bright spaces and dark spaces, between the small crowded objects on the workbench and along the long wooden planks stacked against the wall.

Gavin took a hammer and held the dog’s head in his other hand. The walls seemed to close in on him and the air felt dense on his skin. He didn’t realize he’d been waiting for some time, just standing there and staring at the black mop head that didn’t have any eyes, until he heard the garage door creak.

Somebody was coming home.

His stepfather would be out with his poker buddies, so it must be either his stepsister or his mother—whatever, they were all the same, all brainwashed by the same freeloading tyrant.

Gavin stared at the dog again. He could do this. His hammer-holding hand was starting to shake, and Gavin hated any part of him shaking, hated anything that made him feel weak.

Then something long and rectangular caught his eye. It poked out between the toolbox near the wall, under a tapestry of cobwebs.

It was the cart he and his father built. It was crusted and dusted with age and splintered in more places than he remembered. But it was the one and the same.

Then the sound of the front door opening, and door keys jingling.

In the end, Gavin set the hammer down and let the dog go.

When he escaped, however, he made sure to leave through the fence door this time, and to leave it wide, wide open.


Millie’s Note: Happy Father’s Day! Photo by William Klein, as usual.

 

How A Bridge Collapses

William Klein Poetry Millie Ho

A bridge collapses in plain view while
the children are hunted down.

Red arrows put collars onto backdoors
and push palms through cracks.

When small mouths gasp
bitter water seeps in.

The vines grow tall here and
the walls don’t have ears.

Meanwhile the parents claim this never
happened.

“Get your facts straight, sweetie,” they say,
palms up, legs outstretched, forming the
perfect triangle again.

Thin fingers re-work the memories
into something more manageable.

When small mouths grow big
the eyes stay small,
seeing the parents as long shadows,
themselves as pillars of salt.

When did the bridge collapse?

And why?

You must remember that a bridge
did not exist.

Things that did not exist cannot
collapse.

—–

Millie’s Note: Photo by William Klein.

What to Do While Waiting to Revise

Millie Ho Illustration Drawing Grinning Girl

A drawing done over the waiting period.

I didn’t do enough of waiting before revising in the past. Because I didn’t wait, I wasn’t entirely removed from the narrative. Characters and situations were still fresh in my mind, and my revisions suffered because I still had vivid and biased opinions about what’s what. The only way I can edit Draft One objectively is to put some time between me and the manuscript, so that’s what I’ve been doing for the past few weeks: waiting.

The next question is what to do during this waiting period. Here’s what I did, and maybe it will give you some ideas.

Writing New Stories

I quickly realized that the best way to take my mind off something I wrote is to start writing something else. Within a week of brainstorming ideas and writing flash fiction and short stories, these new narratives started to push the old narrative from my headspace. My focus shifted, and I started to forget.

The funny thing is that my short stories are getting written in the Draft One method—I start with a plot skeleton and then allow myself to deviate by chasing my instincts as I went along. Previously unforeseen or unplanned characteristics, situations, and themes got unearthed. It’s great, and I’m (still) amazed at how it hasn’t turned on its side and vomited in my face yet.

I’m also getting more comfortable with the idea that everything will come together in the revision process. For my flash fiction and short stories, it certainly has. This speaks again to the idea of not editing your work until you’ve seen the complete picture. When you’re feeling your way through a story, it’s pretty damn hard to get a sense of the whole. Just bow your head and keep writing and edit once you’ve had the benefit of hindsight.

Drawing and Painting

Millie Ho Oil Painting Brushes Medium Paints

Turpentine, so good yet so toxic.

A few weeks ago, I picked up hog hair brushes, paints, canvases and masonite boards and have been upping my oil painting game. I’m a beginner with oils and used to be daunted by the prospect of working with solvents or accidentally smudging my colours, but my fears were unfounded. Like the “Whatever works” writing method, just paint something and revise once the layers are dry. It doesn’t matter if it takes a week or two to dry completely—you’ll get there eventually. The first step is just to have a go at it.

Youtube is a great free resource for painters and illustrators. If you’re interested in oil painting, a channel I’ve been obsessively combing through is Draw Mix Paint. The artist offers clear tips and demonstrates techniques that are helpful for both beginners and seasoned painters. If you’re into painting portraits and love ivory black paint as much as I do, you’ll get a kick out of the channel.

I’ve also been working on updating my art portfolio. Most of the art on my existing Art page were from when I was in high school/early university, plus a book cover I did for Marie Marshall a few years back. So now’s as good a time as any to be prolific. The new pieces aren’t ready to go up yet, but here’s a quick drawing I did.

Millie Ho Illustration Skull Drawing

I call her Skully.

I’ll share more artwork when they’re all polished and shiny with a bow on top.

Living in the Moment

Now that I’m no longer furiously typing all the time, I’ve been living more in the moment, which includes but is not limited to

Millie Ho Uncle Hank Lookalike

spotting the Breaking Bad characters walking among us or

Millie Ho Favourite Books

reading old favourites and

Millie Ho Full Moon

admiring nature (albeit from afar).

It’s been good.

When to Start Revising

The contents of Draft One are fading each week, so I will likely start revising next week. In summary, the waiting period was a good reminder that I need to be patient. It’s an interesting switching of gears. I binge wrote Draft One, but it would’ve been unwise for me to quickly jump into the revision process. Believe me, I was definitely ready to—but then I took a good hard look at my past experiences and realized I could’ve done some things differently.

I’ll conclude with what Anne Lamott said in Bird by Bird:

“Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don’t drop-kick a puppy into the neighbour’s yard every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper.”

In other words, stick to the game plan. We’ll get there eventually.

——

Millie’s Note: Do you wait before revising?

Totem Pole Fathers

He carves red barcodes on his arms
and teaches you to do the same.

On the floor swept in a tantrum,
apoplexy popping seeds,
the face of disorder.

He says you are not a person.
You are also a totem pole,
slanting under black waves.

So you decide you are not a person.

So when he chokes the grown plant,
when he halves it whole,
you shove him down.

Down to where the caul chars.
Down to where eyes peer out.