Given that it’s the new year (it’s the new year over here in Australia), I’m putting up my very first post on the topic that I feel has the closest association to the concept of freshness, about finding inspirations.
I’m going to put up a long comprehensive article about the different ways that one could find inspirations, just share with you the one way that I’ve been using so that I’ve been producing with ease 1 entry per day that goes into my Idea Journal for 3 months ever since I started on it. By the way, my Idea Journal is just where I file away any random ideas popping up that can go into my writing, for those unfamiliar with the term.
My way is a simple exercise where random words are picked out in clusters and then free association is used to create an idea that links up all of them. I first got the idea from a book called The Creative Writers’ Workshop by Cathy Birch that I borrowed from my local library. I call it the 10 column exercise. As the name indicates, you make ten columns in a spreadsheet. In my case, they contain single words that fall into the following categories: locations, objects, personal characteristics, words that I like or unusual words, verbs, races in my settings, adjectives, catalyst events, systems of world elements and divination elements. Each column is of different lengths although I’m trying to build my spreadsheet so that each column will have 100+ entries. So far, there are still 4 columns that haven’t reached this requisite length and one of them is actually very close.
Besides this 10-column spreadsheet filled with words, you also need a calculator and some books for the process of picking out words according to my method. However, you can always make up your rules if you find that cumbersome.
My rules for picking out words were/are in 3 steps:
I would pick up a random book and flip to a random page. The last digit of the page would be noted down in my spreadsheet as the number of categories from which words will be picked out of. Lately, I’ve changed to the more convenient practice of looking at the time whenever I embark on this exercise. So if it was 9:05 when I opened up the spreadsheet and wanted to pick a bunch of words, then I would be pick out 5 words in total for that day.
I would then essentially repeat this page flipping exercise for the subsequent stages of picking out which specific columns to use and then the actual words themselves. I change books at each stage. At the last stage, I use the actual page number rather than its last digit and I divide this page number by the total number of items in the column and the actual word chosen is the one with the same row number as the remainder derived from this division. If the page number is a multiple of the total number of items in the column, then the last word on the column is chosen.
A further note about my method is that words from the same column can be picked out multiple times. For example, one day I had three locations turn up: steppes/lea, waterfall and palace. On rare occasions (2 so far for me), the same word turns up twice. Come up with different rules of selecting words if you don’t like such aspects.
An illustration of what this process could yield:
One a particular day, this process had given me 6 words: fortune, oasis, pristine, satyr, ocean and dance.
I formed the following idea that link up all of them that could be dropped into any fantasy setting:
- Pristine oasis forming on a desert next to an ocean
- Satyrs dancing on the oasis which was taken as a sign of fortune by those who see the sight
On another day, a set of 5 words (oath/geis, steppes, smother, crystal, damask) yielded the following idea of a location for another in-work setting of mine that I have no real use for in terms of converting to fiction and so only occasionally get attention from me:
- A crystalline steppe- where the grasses are actual crystals
- The grasses can be woven into weapons of damask steel quality
- The steppe becomes smothered by a geis that shrouds over it palpably