Writing Tips

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

By July 20, 2016 28 Comments
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?

Join the discussion 28 Comments

  • I think that one of the things that constant writing has taught me is that I do have a couple of plot tics, or ideas I tend to like to return to more often than I should. The good news is that because I’m aware of this I know to keep ideas fresh and not let myself fall into that trap.

    • Millie Ho says:

      Good point, Eve. It’s like seeing the same situation from a different angle. You can choose to view the reoccurring elements in your story as a hinderance, or you can be glad you know what they are so you can find ways to keep ideas fresh. Writing constantly allows us to see this pattern. Thanks for dropping by!

  • I agree with you completely. I believe it’s one of those subconscious fears that all writers have, e.g., I’m going to eventually have nothing to say. At some point like a balloon that, over time, loses its air and deflates and falls pitifully to the floor, the writer too will empty herself and sit, devoid of all thought. And of course this won’t happen when one turns 99 but maybe next week! Writing constantly is a discipline that generates its own energy. It’s self-sustaining.

    l have come to believe that when one writes regularly, such as you do, one creates a network of ideas that interact in various and incredible patterns, that without writing, one would never see recognize. Your remark that “Originality comes from execution.” is quite profound and true. Faulkner liked to say that he was simply writing the same story over and over. I think in some sense that’s what we all do. And why so? Because we are trying to discover something: a truth, an understanding, an answer. And each and every attempt that evolves from the true heart is different with its own voice and its own vision.

    Thank you Millie, for such a wonderful post.

    • Millie Ho says:

      I like how you described writing constantly as a discipline. I’m starting to see that there are two opposing forces at work: the creative side that strives to be uninhibited, and the more structured side that makes such creativity possible. Writing constantly seems to be about building good habits. When writing every day becomes something you just do, you feel less anxious about running out of ideas (which drains energy) because generating ideas has become a part of your life now (gives you more energy).

      “Because we are trying to discover something: a truth, an understanding, an answer. And each and every attempt that evolves from the true heart is different with its own voice and its own vision.”

      So true! I should print that out and stick it on my wall. I suppose writing is like polishing a murky stone. Keep polishing and eventually the light, or truth, will shine through. More reasons to keep writing through the thick and thin. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  • kvennarad says:

    I’m (still) not in a position to comment about consistency, but I do value crappy ideas. I have a vast folder full of ’em. You never know when one of them is going to strike you as being not-so-crappy.

  • aetherhouse says:

    This really has been the year of writing abundantly for you. You are an inspiration! For me, this has been the year of film, but I do miss writing. My poor half formed first draft WIP over here…alas. At least Paradisa is going to the copyeditor tomorrow, so there’s some progress!

    To the point, I don’t ever worry about running out of ideas. The world is always changing and developing and giving me new ones. Heck, I have an idea for a novel inspired by the cluster of the American presidential election that I’ll probably write for NaNoWriMo this year. A year ago, I never would think I had a political satire in me 😛

    • Millie Ho says:

      Thanks Michelle! We can take turns inspiring each other. 😛

      It’s great to see you make progress with both film and writing. Just goes to show that if you’ve been consistently working on anything creative, you’re bound to spark new ideas. It’s only when you’ve stopped for a time that the water dries up and you have to get pumping again. The political satire sounds interesting. I read somewhere that the election is turning into Lisa Simpson vs. Nelson Muntz!

      • aetherhouse says:

        Lol, more like Dolorous Umbridge vs Voldemort. We deserve a far better woman to be our first female president. It’s just that she looks halfway decent next to real life Heat Miser Donald Trump 😛

        The political satire mostly concerns “how is America going to make sure this ass disaster of an election never happens again?” and my mind went to a sort of Black Mirror place with it. XD

  • Steve Myers says:

    i’m probably repeating myself Millie, but your ability to reflect on the process of writing is really amazing and then to share it with us, is well, extremely kind and compassionate and all that so thank you again. This post reminded me of studio outtakes, those songs that never make it to the album but get released later or get integrated into future songs or compositions and in some cases, they are better than the songs on the albums.
    from crap to creation by F. George Fertilizer?

    • Millie Ho says:

      Thanks for your comment, Steve. I’m glad you’re getting something out of these posts. Indeed, sometimes the outtakes are better than the final product. It’s nice to think that all that time and energy you spent ideating contributes to something, whether it be a final product or just overall improvements. Seems like the magic is in doing the mundane.

      • Steve Myers says:

        this topic Millie as most of the topics you discuss in your posts suffer from no expiration date and so this morning i was walking along when out of nowhere i was hit by a thought of a 4,000 word story enjoying an edit and then another and another and in a blink of a few eyes, that 4,000 word story turned into a 40 word poem. It was like a big old lincoln town car becoming a nifty little matchbox car.

        • Millie Ho says:

          Haha, great analogy, Steve! Sounds to me like you had a word count accordion. 4,000 words compressed into a 40 word poem, but not lacking in substance or style—just compressed, and will one day expand. Ideas are something squirming that we have to pin down all the time.

  • elmediat says:

    There are no knew stories, just archetypes. 😀 All storytellers step into the same universal stream of mythopoeic currents, every changing, ever he same.

    A new idea springs from what if.

    What if the the UK leaves the EU ?
    What if a woman becomes an American President ?
    What if a new mass medium requires us to re-evaluate how we construct narratives ?
    What if an individual openly declares their gender association identity ?
    What if the dog leaves your slipper on the stairs ?
    What if you find a child’s bicycle on the shore of a lake ?
    What if you wake up and it is Tuesday, but when you went to bed the night before it was Thursday ?

    Every what if is an implied space, full of intended and unintended outcomes. Some of these outcomes may be totally new configurations . The those guys who first created big computers never envisioned Twitter, Snapchat or Facebook, let alone blogging.

  • sanberdooboy says:

    millie, lots of wisdom in your essay. i like the crappy ideas folder, as well.

    when drafting i tend to get bogged down by typos and other irritants. one piece of advice that i have used is to draft with the computer screen either off or blocked. that way i can keep writing without being distracted by dumb errors.

    • Millie Ho says:

      Thanks Michael! It makes sense to draft without the distraction of the computer screen. I also tried turning spellcheck off, and that keeps the focus on producing words instead of revising them. Typos are a way of life at this point!

  • theryanlanz says:

    Hi Millie!

    Per your earlier permission, I scheduled this article to be featured as a guest post on Aug 8th! As usual, it has your credit/bio/link. Feel free to jump in on the comments after. Thanks!

  • I related to this post in many ways. These three misconceptions plague me to this day. Even knowing they are misconceptions doesn’t necessarily erase them from nagging in the back of my mind.

    Writing for me, is a leap of faith. It’s accepting the fears I have and moving forward despite the real possibility of failure. In this way, writers and artists are courageous folk. To act in the face of fear and self-doubt, in my opinion, is the very definition of courage.

    In the way of editing, my strength is as a content editor. Lord knows I’m not the best line editor. A glance at my blog will attest to this. One aspect of content editing is looking at how a writer’s fear (lack of confidence) is affecting their story. A big cause of this fear seems to be this concept of originality you spoke about.

    While I obviously tailor advice to address individual needs, I often find myself recommending Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, to clients/friends who are struggling with the idea of originality. Almost every book on the heroes journey (writing characters and propelling them through conflict) references this book in one way or another. In a nutshell, Campbell explains how all tales, at their core, are recreations of stories/myths passed down throughout time.

    If we can accept this idea, then we can accept the books we treasure and love, at their core, are recreations of something else. For me, this is inspiring. Knowing we each have the power to take something we treasure and breathe new life into it is amazing. Works that inspire us, inspire us to create. Why should we trudge away from them and discount the impact they had on our lives?

    This is what drives me forward. The idea that with each word I write, I keep those legends alive. I think of monks in the 5th and 6th century spending their entire lives handwriting texts in the hopes of preserving them. They had a calling, and they answered it. Now those texts, which could have been lost due those turbulent times, still exist. In short, if you have the calling, you should answer it. Dash your fears and believe in something, in yourself, and the stories you were meant to tell.

    End of rant.

    • Millie Ho says:

      Really interesting that you brought up the topic of fear when it comes to content editing. Based on my personal experiences and from what I heard from other writers, I think fear (or a lack of confidence, as you rightfully put it) could result in a whole host of other writing problems along with originality. Sometimes I would get the urge to explain in a paragraph what I meant instead of simply showing through a few sentences or less. In this way, a lack of confidence in myself as a writer translates into a lack of confidence in the reader. Instead of explaining, I should trust that my words are strong enough and that the reader is smart enough to get the gist of what’s going on.

      Thanks for reminding me to re-read The Hero With A Thousand Faces. It’s a classic that should be referenced over and over again. Often I find myself re-learning the basics of storytelling instead of going off in search of new ideas. Your blog, for example, has loads of insights and presents the fundamentals of storytelling in a new light, which helps me review tried-and-true principles instead of going off in search of something new (or even worse, quick fixes, which usually don’t work!).

      “This is what drives me forward. The idea that with each word I write, I keep those legends alive.”

      That’s a great way to look at it. Writing is the preservation of experiences, and each person’s experience is unique. Don’t discount the calling. Trust yourself to tell the stories you were meant to tell.

      Great rant!

      • I get the urge you are talking about as well. To write more than needed. I don’t know if it will ever go away. It might just be a part of us that will mature over time as we improve our craft.

        A fear I have, with my blog and with my writing, is that because I am an editor people will be overly critical of my words. The truth is, writing and editing, while intertwined, are two different beasts requiring different mental muscles. My coping mechanism is to just try to enjoy myself and not care too much. The world won’t split in half with every typo and poorly written post and paragraph (at least it hasn’t yet).

        If you enjoyed The Hero With A Thousand Faces, then you might also check out, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers & Screenwriters, if you haven’t already. It borrows heavily from Campbell. The author, Christopher Vogler, even states early on Campbell’s book inspired him. It’s a nice twist on an old classic offering some new perspectives and more modern examples of the Heroes Journey. If you’ve read it too, alas, I have nothing more to offer you.

        This post actually inspired a recent one of mine on originality. You sparked some creation on my end. So thanks for that!

        • Millie Ho says:

          Thanks for the recommendation! I haven’t read it yet so I will order it. I see it’s also a book for screenwriters, which reminds me of The Screenwriter’s Workbook by Syd Field. I’ve heard good things about Field’s book, which I believe also talks about structure and storytelling patterns. I haven’t read it yet, but plan to. Maybe it will also be interesting to you.

          I agree that we should just enjoy ourselves and not care too much. Your posts have all been gold, so no worries there! I think we all know that editors are still human, at the end of the day. 😛

          Glad this post inspired something. I’ll check in for more of your insights!

  • Absolutely spot on. If I write every day the ideas start to flow, and I’m pretty sure I could go on forever (until I walk in front of a bus at least). The problem for me is that I create so many “darlings” that way, and killing them off later (because they don’t further the main story) is just agonising :,)

    • Millie Ho says:

      Yeah, it’s totally agonizing! I think we all get used to the pain after awhile, but that doesn’t make it any easier. How’s your work-in-progress coming along? I’m still looking forward to reading it!

      • It’s… well I finished making all the red-pen changes to my long synopsis, then wrote a short synopsis… which led me to rearrange a heap of scenes. I knew the story was bogged down near the middle, but couldn’t work out what to cut. Writing the short synopsis was like “Oh, I didn’t even include this bit and the short made sense, so it can go. I combined maybe four scenes into one, much stronger scene. Soon I will send you something, and I apologise in advance XD

        • Millie Ho says:

          Cool, sounds like it’s coming along well! I’m making a bunch of changes to Draft 2 (and soon, Draft 3) as well. The rearranging of scenes never seem to stop, eh? Looking forward to the epic trading/reading. 😀

  • This makes me worry less about my ideas not being original. I’m always worried I’m writing something cliched, but now I think I needn’t worry anymore. Thank you for sharing this! 🙂

Leave a Reply