How To Avoid Writers Block #3 – The Idea Bank

Read any book on writing, or listen to interviews with writers, and you’ll find that one of the most commonly asked questions you get if you write regularly is this: where do you get your ideas?

Whenever anyone asks me – not that it happens regularly, but it does happen occasionally – I use a variation of a line I unashamedly ripped off from American SF author Harlan Ellison.

I tell the questioner that there’s a dusty old shop in a side street in Covent Garden where they sell ideas in dirty plastic bags.

The truth is much more mundane;  I get all my ideas from my Idea Bank.

What Is An Idea Bank?

An Idea Bank is simply a collection of ideas for blog posts, articles and website pages.  You can store it in a word processor document.  Or a spreadsheet.  Or it could even be notes jotted down on scribbles of paper and held together with a bulldog clip.

Whatever strikes you as a good way to store the information is fine.  What’s more important is that this collection of ideas – the Idea Bank – is one of the productive writer’s most valuable weapons in the war against resistance.  And specifically against that mythical disease ‘Writer’s Block.’

How Does the Idea Bank Help Avoid Writer’s Block?

The Idea Bank helps you avoid Writer’s Block in 2 Ways.
Firstly it ensures that you’ve always got something to write about.  Providing your Idea Bank is in credit, you’ll always be able to go to it, find a topic idea to withdraw, write a quick outline and then fire up your word processor and get writing.

Secondly your Idea Bank helps you avoid one of the sneakier tricks that resistance plays on writers.  And that’s to feed you a better idea than the one you’re currently writing.
When that happens, switch instantly from your current article to your Idea Bank, write down enough of the new idea to capture its essence and then immediately go back to your original article.

This ensures that you (a) complete the original article, and (b) record your new idea in a place where you can access it at a future time for a future writing session.

Where Do You Get Ideas For The Idea Bank From?

There are literally hundreds of places where you can get ideas for your Idea Bank.

You can draw a lot of ideas and raw material from what you read.   Books, magazines, forum posts, blog posts – you name it, you should be reading it.  Every time you see something interesting, or that sparks an idea, you should make a note of it.

Take particular note of Forum questions or threads where YOU have provided an answer.  Often – if you’ve provided a decent answer to a question in your market area – you’ll find that expanding that answer will create an excellent, detailed article or blog post that your audience will find useful.

Answering questions provides us with TWO locations of raw material for your Idea Bank.

Once your website or blog is established you’ll start getting questions via email.  Often your answers to those questions can be expanded out as per the previous paragraph, and turned into detailed articles.

The Comments Section of your blog is also another location where your website visitors will ask you questions.  It’s surprising how often a two sentence answer to a question will form the basis of an excellent, detailed article.  What you need to do is get into the habit of answering blog comments – and recognizing potentially good ideas and making a note of them in your Idea Bank.  Do not leave the idea on your blog – if your blog has a decent amount of traffic you’ll forget it about it pretty quickly.

If you’re really stuck for ideas to put in your Idea Bank, go to your Mastermind Group – or a group of buddies – and tell them you want to write on a particular topic and get them to ask you a bunch of questions.

For example, let’s say you were writing about Writer’s Block you might end up with questions like these:

  • What is writer’s block?
  • How do you get writer’s block?
  • How do you cure writer’s block?
  • How do I know if I have writer’s block?
  • Are there different types of writer’s block?
  • Does alcohol help overcome writer’s block?
  • Does coffee help overcome writer’s block?

Let’s say you ask five people to ask you five questions off the top of their heads – you’ll come away with at least five really good ideas to put in your Idea Bank.  It’s crucial you maintain your Idea Bank too, because like any bank account, if you constantly make withdrawals from your Idea Bank you’ll find that you quickly empty the account and when you need to get an idea to write you’ll find nothing there.

How Can I Maintain My Idea Bank?

To make sure you are always in credit with your Idea Bank, you need to get into the habit of adding new ideas on a regular basis.

I always have the word processor document that forms my Idea Bank open in the background of my computer.  If I’m on a Forum, and I see something interesting and I think I could write a good article on that topic – or even better, a related topic – then I switch to my word processor doc and make a note.

I also find that repetitive tasks are conducive to creative thinking – for me the three that really work are swimming, driving long distances and walking.  So I make sure I have a Dictaphone with me when I’m driving or walking.  I also put it in my coat pocket when I go swimming and often dictate ideas into it whilst shivering in the changing room!

You also need to read widely too – not just in your market area, but also in associated areas.  So if you have a trade journal make sure you read that.  Or buy some books from Amazon.com and read them.

Back in the day when I wrote fiction I purchased a course from science fiction writer Steven Barnes and he always advised read at least 10 times the amount you write.  Doing that ensures that you have always being exposed to new material – potentially generating new ideas to go into the Idea Bank.

How Do I Create Entries In My Article Bank

When you’re creating a new entry in your Idea Bank, it need only be long enough so that at some future date you will be able to read that entry and remember the idea that you’ve had, and then use that as a starting point for writing.

Sometimes my entries are literally one-liners, like this:

Series About Avoiding Writer’s Block

  • 1) Professional Mindset
  • 2) Use Outlines
  • 3) Idea Bank

Sometimes my entries are a paragraph long, giving a sense of what the article is about, and what I’m going to discuss.  Occasionally I’ll visualize not only an article idea, but also how the outline looks too – in which case I’ll write the outline down as well.

For me, it varies from idea to idea.   When you’ve got experience of turning an idea fragment into an outline, and then a completed article from that outline, you’ll learn what works for you.

The important thing though is to record the idea fragment in the first place, and deposit it in your Idea Bank.  Here’s a tip that works really well too – if you’ve got DropBox installed on your computer keep your Idea Bank in DropBox.  That way you can always access it – even if you break your computer.  If you don’t have DropBox, head over to www.dropbox.com and install it.  It’s a totally free service, and it rocks.

Summary

Creating an Idea Bank is a great way to avoid Writer’s Block.  It ensures that you always have something to write about.  Even if you feel your writing is slow and uninspired on a particular day you still have something to write about.

And writing something is always better than writing nothing.  That’s what editing is for, as we’ll see in the next article in the series.

To summarize:

  1. An Idea Bank is simple a collection of idea fragments that can be turned into outlines (if they are not outlined as well) and then turned into articles.
  2. You often get great ideas when you are already writing – deposit them in your Idea Bank and finish what you were writing.
  3. There are lots of places to get ideas for your Idea Bank.  Try questions that you’ve answered already – either on Forums, via emails, or in the comments section of your website.  Or get a group of friends to ask you a bunch of ‘newbie’ questions on a particular topic.
  4. Always maintain your Idea Bank.  Repetitive tasks are great for creative thinking – make sure you have a way of recording ideas that appear at unexpected moments.
  5. Experience will teach you what detail you need to use to record your idea fragments.  And storing your Idea Bank in a DropBox folder is a great tip.

Having a list of topics to write about – and sustaining that list – is a great habit to create and ensures that you always have something to write about.  You never need to be afraid of the blank screen, or sit and wait for the Muse to strike – writer’s block loves these two activities, because if you’re doing them then it’s won.

Next Step

Create a spreadsheet, or a word processor document, and start populating your idea bank.  As a rule of thumb I try and add two article ideas for every idea that I take out and turn into a finished article.  That way your Idea Bank is always growing.

Then when someone asks YOU where you get your ideas you can say: I take them from my Idea Bank.  Or try and be a wiseass like me, and direct them to the dusty old shop in Covent Garden.

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