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Content Strategy | Writing | Editing

25 Ideas for Ideas

Jeffrey Williams

Kind of a squirrel thing you can make with the Ball of Whacks.

My brain juices congeal at times, just like anybody's, so I keep a stack of flashcards ready to hand. Each has a single writing prompt on it, and I'll grab one at random, trust the muse, and follow the instruction.

Sometimes it feels ridiculous, and sometimes the quality of the writing is horrible, but who cares? Nobody is going to see what I'm writing at this point. Besides, I've come up with some great ideas this way.

Here are 10 of the exercises.

  1. Write out a speed diary of your day.
  2. Write a letter to someone.
  3. Write out as many uses for an object as you can think of.
  4. Write a seven-sentence story. (Rule No. 4 here.)
  5. Play wordball. How? 1. Write a word. 2. Write the first word the first word makes you think of. 3. Write the first word the previous word makes you think of. Etc. Stuck? Make up words.
  6. Acronyms. Think of a 3- or 4-letter word. Like "FACE." That's your acronym. Now create sentences. Fred ate cheese easily. Fierce Alexa came East. 
  7. List the parts of an everyday item. E.g.: hand dryer. Question each one. Ask, how could it be different? Ask, does it need this part or feature?
  8. List the steps in an everyday process. E.g.: getting your hair cut. Now, question each step. Take it to the edge.
  9. Pick a random sentence from somewhere. That's your first line. Pick another from another place. That's your last line. Write a one-page story in between.
  10. Write "I remember" and then finish the sentence. If it takes you somewhere, great. If not, start again with "I remember."

And here are 15 great idea ideas from the little book that comes with the Ball of Whacks.

  1. Rearrange. Try putting your ending in the middle. The center on the top. Inside outside.
  2. Combine. Pick from two professions and imagine people from those professions giving you advice. What would they say? Ideas: chef, soldier, software developer, talk show hose, cheerleader, florist, impressionist painter, monk.
  3. Substitute. What can you swap out in your situation? What's time-consuming? What's boring? Expensive? Ugly? What different words can you use?
  4. Drop an assumption. What "time" and "scheduling" assumptions can you let go of? What "grownup" assumptions? What "people" and "place" assumptions? How would a ... jazz drummer, mime, mystic, clown, wrestler, designer, bomb defuser, comedian ... challenge your assumptions?
  5. Find a pattern. How do the components relate to the whole? Which parts dominate? Do some parts attract others? Repel them?
  6. Simplify. What can you take out? Where would less be more? What if you did nothing?
  7. See the obvious. Write down 10 obvious things about your problem or situation. What resources or solutions are right in front of you? What are two obvious contexts in which you haven't thought about your problem?
  8. Laugh at it. How can you take your issue less seriously? What's funny about it?
  9. Reverse. How can you reverse your viewpoint? What if you saw it as someone else might?
  10. Be random. Pick out the 13th word on page 42 of a novel you're reading. How does it relate to your situation? Look out the window. Find the first object with blue in it. How would it help you solve your problem?
  11. Imagine how someone else would do it.
  12. Imagine you're the idea. If your problem were a person, what kind of attributes would it have? How old would it be? Man or woman? Ethnicity? Hobbies? Beliefs?
  13. Compare. What similarities does your idea have to ... cooking a meal, building a house, running a marathon, starting as revolution, having a baby?
  14. Look to nature. How has nature solved this problem? What can you borrow from: seasons, compost, natural selection, earthquakes ... ?
  15. Ask a fool. What conventional wisdom can you challenge. All of it!  

Okay, have fun!

PS. These "Made by SYPartners" card decks look great, too. And Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies.