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Bil Howard is a professional storyteller and freelance writer who has written several of his own books and novels. He has ghostwritten more than 100 books and more than 500 articles, blog posts, short stories, and product reviews. Check out the published titles by Bil Howard in the left-hand column below.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Capturing the Elusive Story Idea

“How can you possibly come up with another idea?” my mother in law asked.

“I don’t know,” I shrugged.

“What will you do if you ever run out of ideas? What will you do when your mind runs out of stories?” she pressed.

“I hope I never do.” The idea of not being able to come up with a new idea or a new story jarred me. What would I do? I’d been counting on my ability to come up with ideas and tell stories to make my living. Surely the day would never come when I would run out of ideas.

There was no way that I could tell her that running out of ideas scared me, but I couldn’t tell her that the man who her daughter was depending upon to pay the rent, the bills, put clothes on her back and put food on the table might, someday, run out of stories. So, I answered her the best way I could. “I don’t think I ever will.”

“How do you know that one day they won’t just stop?” She wasn’t nagging. It was more of a fascination with the fact that I’ve written so many stories and hadn’t ran out.

“I’m kind of crazy up here,” I laughed, tapping my temple with my index finger.

My mother in law stopped grilling me, because another subject scurried by and snatched it up, but she’d already rattled me so much that I couldn’t let go of the original question. “How can you possibly come up with another idea?”

“When ‘dead head’ strikes, panic quickly follows and a downward spiral begins.”

If you’re a veteran writer, you are already well acquainted with “dead head.” You get up in the morning, put the coffee on, shuffle over to your computer to turn it on, go back to the coffee pot and pour a cup, and then sit down in front of your computer with absolutely nothing in your brain. You have a deadline to meet and you have to come up with an idea. When “dead head” strikes, panic quickly follows and a downward spiral begins. You have to get off of that spiral, because it will lead you straight into the hell of writer’s block. As a storyteller, you can’t afford to be there.

“In essence, writer’s block is a form of depression.”

I don’t want to get into a detailed discussion of writers block, but I will throw in a pointer before moving on, just in case you picked up this book in the hope of fighting your way free of its hell. In essence, writer’s block is a form of depression. The only way to “really” defeat depression, without medication, is to get your ass up and go do something. The truth is harsh sometimes. Don’t fight it and don’t procrastinate, but do something. Being without an idea is like sitting in a canoe in your back yard. Follow that analogy all of the way through. You have to take your canoe to a place where there is water and you have to get into it and paddle. How? Keep reading.

“Really, I think it is our desire to be storytellers that draws stories to us.”

In some cases, we storytellers are a little crazy up there. (You can tap your temple with your index finger along with me.) I don’t know if we hear muses or if we hear voices of another kind. Or what collections of psychoses are at play, which make us do what we do. Really, I think it is our desire to be storytellers that draws stories to us. I don’t want to get into a discussion about cosmic energy and that sort of thing. I don’t believe that there is some great storytelling energy out there in the great ethereal beyond which feeds stories to storytellers by some sort of magic. I think it is our keen awareness of the world around us which supplies us with stories.

“The trick to drawing stories to us is to constantly feed our artistic side.”

Things that we do on a daily basis put ideas into our head. We capture those ideas in moments when we are particularly open to them, and from them, we begin to form a story. The trick to drawing stories to us is to constantly feed our artistic side. We storytellers are a crazy amalgamation of artist and engineer. We use both sides of our brains to perform our art. Storytellers must constantly feed the artistic side. How you feed your inner artiste will determine how easily stories are drawn to you.

Note: This is an excerpt from Planning a Tale to Tell, the first volume in The Storyteller’s Craft instructional series. Coming Soon!