Thinking Outside the Box

Watching my son play yesterday afternoon I was reminded of how easy it was to think outside the box as a kid. He currently has an interest in aircraft carriers. He doesn’t have a toy aircraft carrier, but he has a garage with three levels, an elevator, and a nice flat spot on the top level. When he placed the garage in the middle of our grey couch it suddenly became an aircraft carrier in the middle of an ocean. For almost two hours planes took off and landed on the top deck, while people went up and down the ramp and elevator to get below deck. Captain Hook and Mr. Smee even had a lovely little board book row boat chasing after the aircraft carrier for a while.

Usually I don’t have much trouble thinking outside the box. It’s a skill that can be particularly useful when trying to figure out my next writing idea. That is until the last year when I’ve had a bit of a dry spell for new ideas. I went over eight months without a single new idea popping up. I wrote 65k during NaNo without a single new idea. Usually I can’t get more than halfway before the next novel is pounding on the door of the small room I’ve locked it away in so I can concentrate on the current project. It was frustrating, but I knew I had to be patient. I know from experience ideas can come from anywhere or anything. I see a glimpse of something on the bus, I have a dream, or I read a news article and suddenly my mind is whirling with ways to spin a single image or thought into a story.

This time my dry spell was broken by a dream about a girl carrying a heart in a box. The idea had enough form I immediately added it to my ‘come back to later’ folder. So many questions came about because of that little box. Why was she carrying it? Who’s heart was it? Why would a girl with a heart in a box be getting on a train? Why were her parents standing beside her beaming with pleasure? It turned out I knew the answer to all of those questions. Once I had that first niggling image the wall holding me back was smashed to bits and the ideas couldn’t be stopped.

The thing about that first idea breaking down the wall is that it didn’t just let out that idea, it dragged a whole flood of ideas with it. Within the following month I had an idea for a short story I might post on Wattpad later this year, and another that could be short story or a novel depending on how I work it. While the ideas are flowing I’m stock piling them away in my ‘come back to later’ folder then if I have another dry spell at least I’ll still have something to write.

How do you get your writing ideas? What is your favourite way to think outside the box?


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