Feeding my creativity

Here’s the prompt Gabriela sent this week for the DIYMFA launch team:

“Coming up with ideas takes practice. You have to train your brain to get creative on demand. You can’t sit around waiting for your muse to show up because she might take her sweet time. Instead, you have to go after your muse. Hunt her down and show her who’s boss. One writer told me he “keeps his muse chained to his desk.”

While I find that mental image of the muse-prisoner hilarious, I prefer to think of it a little differently. I have a shrine to my muse, a small box I call the ORACLE. (Like most things in DIY MFA, ORACLE is an acronym that stands for outrageous ridiculously awesome creative literary exercises.) Just like the ancient Greeks made pilgrimages to oracle temples so they could get guidance and wisdom from their gods, I visit my ORACLE whenever I feel the creative well going dry.

These contents have changed over time, but a few things have stayed constant:

  • Dice: I use dice for writing exercises whenever I need to leave something up to chance. I’ll assign each number an option, and then do whatever the roll decides.
  • Word Box: This small box contains slips of paper with words on them. I pull a few words out of the box at random, and then write a short piece that uses all those words.
  • Image Box: I keep an old chocolate tin filled with photos I clipped from magazines or postcards I picked up at museums. Whenever I’m stuck for ideas, I use those images to spark a story.

These are just a few things I keep in my ORACLE. I also have a paper prototype of the Writer Igniter app, a Writer Igniter deck of cards (also an early prototype for the app), a stack of fortune cookie fortunes, and a pocket-sized book of prompts.

Do you have an ORACLE? If not, treat yourself and start putting one together this week. It took me several years to refine and build my ORACLE, so don’t feel like you have to fill it overnight. Go out, get a nifty container, and start assembling materials to put in it.”


I don’t have an oracle. I’ve bought decks of story cards, but, I have to confess that I don’t use them. I’m not fond of prompts, honestly, though the idea for one of my novels did result from a prompt. It was a Natalie Goldberg prompt, though, so that may have had an impact on how things turned out 😉

A lot of my story ideas come from my dreams, which, when I can remember them, are quite theatrical/cinematic in scope.

Other ideas come from articles that I read that trigger interesting connections in my head. I talked about the reasons I started my Thoughty Thursday curation a couple of weeks ago. I keep this curation going for myself as much as for others.

I share the posts and articles that make me think, start the mental corn a-popping. Some of those pops ignite story ideas.

I’ve always had story ideas, and more ideas than I knew how to write, especially when I was young. I used to write my stories (so-called) in Hilroy exercise books. I still have them. I still have most of the stories I wrote for school, too.

When I had an idea that I wasn’t sure how to write, I’d write as much as I could about it in one of those notebooks. Eventually, spiral bound notebooks and loose leaf paper replaced the exercise books.

That was the beginning of my idea file.

I mentioned last week as well was that when I was in university, I started making those thoughty connections with all the things I was learning in my classes. Psychology fed into sociology fed into Taoism fed into Old English fed into genetics fed into astronomy.

I started keeping my first journal in those years.

I have a stack of them now.

I keep one beside my bed to capture dream ideas.

I carry one in my purse so I can write down ideas that occur at work or when I’m otherwise away from other means of capturing them. I could use my smart(er than me) phone, but I like the feel of pen on paper. I take all my conference and convention session notes by hand as well.

Also during my university years, I worked in libraries. I learned a lot about research in those years, and, in the course of processing books and magazines to put on the shelves, if I came across an article that elicited a pop, I’d copy it. I called it being a clip rat.

These, too, went into my idea file.

I once clipped an entire series from a newspaper on families living on welfare. I also copied articles on the future of economics. And yes, both of these have story ideas that go along with them.

When the library’s collection was culled, I bought whatever books I could afford from the resulting sale. I accumulated a number of interesting, if slightly out of date, reference books, including an etymological dictionary (in two volumes), a name dictionary, and a couple of collections of popular quotations.

Currently, I read a number of blogs using Feedly. Before Feedly, I used Google Reader (when they announced the end of Google Reader, I was in a panic until Michael Hyatt mentioned Feedly in one of his blog posts).

Things that inspire an idea for a story, I clip to Evernote.

When I start working on a story, outlining, drafting, revising, I do my research in dribs and drabs. I use Evernote to capture online research as well.

Finally, my husband is a great source of ideas. We watch a lot of science fiction, fantasy, historical, and anime series. We have discussions about them. Because my man is Mr. Science, he’ll often have a few things to say about the poor science in a science fiction series. One of my stories was inspired by a discussion we had about Star Trek: The Next Generation.

He’s also very critical of story/plot quality. We can have animated conversations about what writers do and fail to do in the series we like to watch.

I can also fact check some of my SF ideas with him. He’s awesome that way 😀

So, I have lots of ideas and a lot of the resources I need to refine them.

I find that the best way to come up with story ideas is to be present, pay attention, and capture them however you can.

I like to keep things simple.

Tomorrow: It’s next chapter update time 🙂

Next week: DIYMFA will be out on the 10th! I’ll be posting my review to Amazon and Goodreads, and posting it to Writerly Goodness on Saturday.

Have a great weekend!