Many new writers complain that they can’t find Ideas, or that no Ideas are coming to them. But of course an Idea won’t just walk up and ask to be petted, it’s not a dog – it’s a wild animal. If you want an Idea, you have to hunt it.
Tools to Hunt Ideas
Every hunter needs their tools and weapons, and to prepare before they depart on their hunt. This is no different for the Idea hunter. Your most important weapon is a Note-maker. Traditionally, this was a notebook and pen (or sometimes pencil), though unprepared hunters who spot a wild Idea have been known to use receipts, napkins and envelopes. The modern, high-tech Idea hunters use phones and tablets with memo or word processing apps. Other Idea hunters prefer the dictaphone or voice recording app.
There are two different species of Idea, and they are defined by their habitats.
The Outdoor Idea
To hunt the Outdoor Idea you will need, in addition to your Note-maker, a good pair of shoes and a watchful pair of eyes. A bit of cash for coffee helps too. Now, don’t be confused by the name Outdoor Idea; it can live inside buildings too. It’s called an Outdoor Idea because you have to go out your door to find it.
What you’re looking for when hunting an Outdoor Idea is a footprint. You can find these in all sorts of places; they get around, do Ideas, and leave their footprints everywhere. Look out for things that are out of place, or things that are exactly where they should be doing exactly what you’d expect them to be doing but wouldn’t normally notice. Make a point of noticing things. Look, listen, smell, feel. The Idea footprints can be on plants, pieces of rubbish, buildings, people, inside your mug of coffee, or pattering all over the conversation you overheard in the café you bought your coffee in.
And whenever you notice a footprint, whenever you see something, hear something, smell something, write it down. Then keep hunting until you catch up with the Idea.
The Word Idea
The Word Idea lives in Words. Until recently, they mostly lived in written words, between the pages of a book, or in a letter, or on the front of the newspaper. They’d scurry around all over the words, jumping from one written thing to another. But the Word Idea has adapted admirably to modern technology, and now can roam all across the internet, and even travel through spoken word – on radio shows, podcasts, and TV documentaries.
If you’re a new Idea hunter, or are really stuck for a starting point to begin your Idea Hunt, try the “random” button on Wikipedia. The library, though, is the eternal habitat of the Word Idea, practically a hive of them. I’ve personally found the most success in the History section. Now, the great thing about hunting Word Ideas is that you can find native guides to help you track down Ideas. Amongst my favourite guides are Apollodorus and Pausanias. They each, in their time, recorded many Idea footprints, as did hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of other guides. In the TV documentary habitat, my favourite guide is Jago Cooper. He even has a machete.
Capturing an Idea
Once you’ve caught up with an Idea, then you need to catch it. This is difficult, so pay attention. You need to lure it in. Now, what the best lure is depends on who you ask. Some people advocate for using characters as lures. Others suggest using the footprints left over by other Ideas to lure new Ideas in. You can even use an existing Idea you already caught to help you capture a new Idea, and then let those Ideas mate to produce more little baby Ideas (which are very cute, but take a lot of work to raise).
Looking after Ideas
Having caught an Idea, you then need to pen it properly and look after it appropriately. You need a suitable place to put it, somewhere it can grow, or it’ll wither and die. And you need to nurture it, or it’ll run away and you’ll lose it. If you try and put it in the wrong place, it might end up fighting with other Ideas, or it might get scared and hide in the corner and be skittish and no good to anyone. Don’t forget to feed your Idea every day; it eats words, so be sure to write plenty. A hungry Idea might run away, or it might get thin and weak, and then it’ll take a long time to nurse it back to health.
So now you’re prepared to begin your Idea hunt. Good luck.