Where the Wild Ideas Play

Still struggling to find your story idea for NaNoWriMo?

Don’t you know that somewhere story ideas run and play, wild and free, until some lucky writer manages to lasso one and corral it into his manuscript?

Maybe that’s not so crazy.  I believe there are an infinite number of ideas available to everyone at all times.  And that it just takes a bit of the writer’s awareness to creep up on the idea that most appeals to you, and take it captive.

I was chatting with a friend this morning, explaining NaNoWriMo.  And she asked a question that I’ve answered hundreds of times for hundreds of people.

“Where do you get ideas for your stories?”

Paraphrasing Ray Stevens, “They’re everywhere! They’re everywhere!”

For the next four days, try this exercise.  (I promise it won’t take you too far outside your comfort zone.)


Day 1:  Walk into a room in your home, close your eyes, and (carefully) turn in a circle.  Open your eyes.  Pick up the first item you see.  Does it have a history in your family?  What is that story?  If it isn’t a family heirloom, what story does that item want to tell?  Where was it made?  For what purpose?  Where has it been?  Who used it, and why?


Jot down any ideas that leap into your mind.  All of them.  No idea is too crazy when it comes to story inspiration.


Day 2:  At the grocery store, the pharmacy, or some other crowded venue, select one person to observe.  Do this carefully.  You don’t want to be arrested as a stalker before you can write your masterpiece.  Without knowing anything about this person, decide why he (or she) is in this place at this time of day.

Speculate on what his morning was like.  Why did he decide to shop here?  What will he do when he gets home?

Look at how another person is dressed.  What does the way she dresses and moves tell you about this person?  Ask yourself if she is a professional, a blue-collar worker, or if maybe she’s searching for work.  Who is waiting for her at home?

Make notes on your handy-dandy grocery list, or in your ever-present writer’s notebook.


Day 3:  Go for a walk in your neighborhood.  Pay attention to your surroundings.  Let yourself wonder what happened beneath the branches of that century-old tree through the years.

Notice the house that looks abandoned.  Is it empty?  Or does the owner have health issues that prevent him from maintaining his property?

Does the dog at the house on the corner race along the fence as you pass, or does he stand on the porch, barking?


If you walk at night, what do the street lights reveal that you weren’t aware of during the day?  What could be hidden in the pockets of darkness between each lamppost?


Make more notes.  Jot down a description of the view from the top of the street.  Describe the sound of the wind as it blows through the eaves of your house.


Day 4:  Gather the notes you’ve made in the past three days.  Now, leap into that magic place where the wild ideas play.  Select the first note from Day 1, the last note from Day 2, and the middle note from Day 3.  Using all three notes, what is the story that wants to be told?

Don’t stop there.  Choose more items from your notes and see how many ways you can combine them to create intriguing questions that you, the writer, feel compelled to answer.

When you’ve shuffled and sorted your notes into every possible combination, you may find you have more story ideas that you can handle at once.  What a wonderful place to be!  Overflowing with ideas, brimming with stories.

Now, all you have to do is close your eyes, point to one idea, and start writing.


I’d love to hear about the stories you create using this four-day exercise.  Do share in the comments.