While trying to come up with a topic to blog about, I started throwing ideas around in my head. I started thinking about “Five Ways to Describe Your Character,” or “Three Ways to Create Tension,” and then “Four Ways to Stimulate the Creative Juices.” I was throwing these titles around, and then it hit me—THAT is the topic! “How to Create a Topic”!

Some of the most enjoyable projects I’ve worked on, whether writing a fiction novel, trying to solve a challenging issue at work, building a deck, or trying to get out of an escape room before the timer runs out, have all involved brainstorming. Sometimes, this takes the form of writing my thoughts onto sticky notes and pasting them on the wall in front of me so I can rearrange them or add to them. Other times, it’s me and a couple of friends with tape measures in one hand and a coffee in the other talking through our plans for how to build a sturdy frame. The most important part though is to get the ideas out of your head so you can use them.

Let’s say I’m writing a book. Ready? “I’m writing a book.” (Thanks for humoring me.) I know I’m going to have to come up with many chapters, and each one will have an opening hook of some kind, and then the sentences will have to build on the tension in such a way that the reader is lured into the deep, dark recesses of my protagonist’s journey until the end of the chapter where it should be clear that I’ve tricked the reader into wanting to read the next chapter. Devious plan, I know.

But how? It is said that you should get your protagonist up a tree, then throw rocks at him, and then get him down safely. Hmmm… Who said that, again? Oh, that’s right… Everybody has said that. But how you get him up that tree is where the creative process is at its best. Think of it as a video game where you’re making all the decisions. Picture your protagonist entering the scene like a first-person POV with some swagger! What’s he gonna do, huh? Should he take the mountain path along the steep rock face? Cross the chasm over that fallen log? Swing across the river using that vine up there? His goal is to get to the other side. What else is there? Don’t toss those crazy ideas right away, because they might lead you to some other idea that you might use.

Now, throw rocks at him. No! Put that down! I didn’t mean li’trally, you do-nut! Did you go mountain path? You probably didn’t count on that vampire goat blocking his way! And you probably didn’t anticipate that he’d panic, and lose his footing, and then slide part of the way down the rock face, saved only by a tiny branch growing out of a crack in the rock. That’s when he hears the gunshot, and the goat hunter has fired the silver bullet at the goat dropping it in its tracks. He reaches a hand down to save him. But ahh, there’s a catch! In order to be pulled to safety, he first has to… You get the idea.

In the end, he gets down safely. No! It’s not that simple! Have a little fun, would ya? Maybe he makes a counteroffer to the goat hunter. “I’ll take your offer on one condition. You have to provide me safe passage all the way to Gungla Dunes, or else I keep your bag of gold.” Later when the hunter falls into the fast-flowing river and realizes he can’t swim, he has to give up the bag of gold that’s weighing him down and trust the protagonist will save him and promises to wipe the slate clean.

The idea is, go wherever your twisted mind takes you. You can write things on sticky notes, scribble on a whiteboard, have your friends act out your ideas in pantomime, whatever… but get them out of your head and flowing! Many times, I think you’ll find that one or two of those ideas will call out to you, and those are the ones that will provide the jumpstart you need.

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