Three Thinkers stare a computer as they try to come up with an idea for a story.
Three Thinkers Sitting In Front Of A Computer Screen. 3D Illustration.

A wonderful image copyright by 3DSculptor

This week marks my 10 story countdown on the Great Challenge.  That means I’ve written 41 stories over the last year, a definite record for me. You’ll find many of the stories on Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books – Linda Maye Adams, though I still have more to release!

But it also taught me a lot about ideas, since I’ve had to come up with one 41 times.

Yeah, sometimes it’s been “Wait? I have to come up with another one? Again?!”

I can only imagine what it must have been like for the pulp writers, who wouldn’t be able to put food on the table if they didn’t write and finish a story.

An Idea is Not the Same Thing as a Story

This sounds pretty straight forward, but it isn’t.  I struggled with the concept on my first novel. 

It was a called Remember No Evil, an amnesia story. I figured building a character from the blank slate amnesia provided would make the characterization easier to do (not true). It went great for about 100 pages, and then I got stuck. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this a common problem that no one talks about (it’s fear that hits once you get out of the beginning).

I figured I was getting stuck because something was wrong in the first part of the book, so I went back and revised to “fix” the problem. It’s actually common advice to do this for this problem, though it’s completely wrong. The result was that I’d bump into that sticking point again, go back to revise, rinse, and repeat.

I knew I should trunk the novel. Except…

I didn’t have any other ideas. That terrified me! What would happen if I did finish the book and it got accepted? Then I’d have to come up with another idea for a book!

It wasn’t until another writer and I agreed to cowrite that it knocked me out of being stuck there (though it was his idea, not mine).

An idea is just one miniscule piece of a story, and a novel is made up of hundreds of ideas. The first one is simply a bit of inspiration to get started. All ideas are creativity at play.

We Lose Creativity As We Become Adults

I read a lot of business books (which any writer should do). There’s a unbelievably huge market for how to come up with ideas. A few examples:

  • Brainstorming (usually done as a group, and from what I’ve read, largely done incorrectly)
  • Mindmapping (I’ve tried this generally. Very hard keeping the inner critic out. I’m a terrible artist!)

People still struggle to come up with ideas. I had to have a class to figure out how to come up with them.

We lose the ability to be creative as we grow up. As children, we come up with incredible fanciful stories when we play with our toys.

Then adult opinions start to intrude.

Adults are down to business, dealing with the day to day of life. Ideas look frivolous, even childish. I’ve had occasions where someone asked me to tell them my idea, so I did. Then they got this uncomfortable look in their eyes, like they wanted to be anywhere but with me.

Even critiques can ruin creativity. You enjoyed writing the story and thought the ideas in it were fantastic. Then you get someone who just growls and fusses at your story (which he probably does because it gives him a sense of power). But it kicks on our inner critic and the muse runs off to hide. And maybe the story ends up in the trashcan.

Is it any wonder it’s so hard to figure out how to come up with ideas?

Creating Ideas is Not a One-Size Fits All

I once worked with a writer who latched onto the concept of “What if” for idea generation. He started lecturing me that all ideas must be conceived this way.

It left me cold. “What if” doesn’t’ do anything at all for me. It doesn’t inspire me to start a story. It just lays there and plays dead.

We all get inspired by different things. I’m still figuring out what mine is and it’ll probably always be an evolving thing. I usually take pieces of things and mash them together.

Story #41 started with a message in a bottle.

I started a little research on the topic and somehow, the first thing I typed in my notes was “It’s from mermaids.”

Then Dave Farland talked about nostalgia in the 381R class I’m (finally!) finishing up.

So message in a bottle + mermaids + nostalgia.

But if you want more examples, visit How 50 Famous Authors Find Writing Inspiration (

Sometimes Ideas Are Simply Making the Decision

Part of the Great Challenge is that I have to produce a complete short story (2K and up) by Sunday every week. That means there’s no waiting to see if the idea is right.

I have to start the story. I have to get something done.

I’ve had some not work and had to toss it out entirely. I’ve had others where it took the idea a bit of time to rattle around in my brain before I could figured out exactly what I was going to do.

But each idea had one thing in common: Decide. Now.

Maybe that’s what it was like for pulp writers.

How do you come up with ideas?