How to Find New Ideas for Your Novel (Without Burning Out)

find new ideas for your writing - cat asleep

Do you need to find new ideas for your novel?

Then you need imagination.

Imagination makes your writing soar.

It gives a lift and momentum to your writing in the same way wind gives a lift to a sailboat. Imagination invites your readers into a new world they have never seen or experienced before. It opens a door to magic and wonder.

But how do we access, hone, and liberate the inspiration and power of imagination that is in us all? How do you Find new ideas for your Novel?

By moodling.

“If you want to write”

Brenda Ueland, author of a classic book on the art of writing first published in 1938, had very strong views on this matter. Ueland, a Norwegian author and longtime teacher of writing, who was knighted by the king of Norway and set an international swimming record for over 80-year-olds, declared in her book, If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit:

Our idea that we must always be energetic and active is all wrong. Bernard Shaw says that it is not true that Napoleon was always snapping out decisions to a dozen secretaries and aides-de-camp, as we are told, but that he moodled around for months. Of course he did.

And that is why these smart, energetic, do it now, pushy people so often say: ‘I am not creative.’ They are, but they should be idle, limp and alone for much of the time, as lazy as men (or women) fishing on a levee, and quietly looking and thinking, not willing all the time. This quiet looking and thinking is the imagination: it is letting in ideas.

So you can find new ideas for your novel by moodling too.

(By the way, the etymology of the word ‘moodle’ is unknown. Maybe Ueland made it up? If you look up the word “moodle” online, it refers nowadays to some kind of computer related program. Good luck finding out from a dictionary what this word means. To me, in the way Ueland used this word, it simply means “messing around” a bit with this or that while you give yourself a chance to see what the next step is.)

Writing is an art to be savored

But to proceed. Writing is an art to be loved and savored. It is an activity to be enjoyed, just as Ueland emphasizes in her book. Above all, as I was saying before, writing is an opportunity to engage our imagination in a way that perhaps we never experienced before.

So find new ideas for your novel with joy.

One of the books that brought me the most pleasure in my own writing career was an animal fable that I entitled, The Raven Who Spoke with God. How this book unfolded from just a glimmer of an idea to a published book that was translated into 11 foreign-language editions illustrates, I think, Brenda Ueland’s message about inspiration and imagination from long ago.

A book begins as a little seed

I’ve spent much of my life alone with nature, and I love animals. The idea that we are intimately connected in a pattern of oneness with animals has been gestating in me for a long time.

One day soon after I moved to Colorado from British Columbia in 1998 to marry my wife JoAnn, an idea for a new book just popped easily and effortlessly into my mind without any trying on my part. I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be fun to write a book about integrity in which the hero would be not a person but an animal.” So I let this idea just “moodle” around in my mind, like Ueland suggested, until one day, browsing in Barnes and Noble, I happened to notice a book called “Mind of the Raven,” by Bernd Heinrich.

It was love at first sight. I grabbed the book from the shelf, knowing instinctively that a Raven would be a perfect animal for my new book. Oh my, did that book get a good going over. I absorbed every piece of information that Heinrich, a professor of biology at the University of Vermont, had to share about ravens, including his deep appreciation for this much maligned creature and its many remarkable gifts.

I started writing longhand in Starbucks

I started writing the first draft of my book in a Starbucks close to the Denver town home where JoAnn and I lived during the early years of our marriage. Every day I would walk to Starbucks with a yellow legal pad it in my hand, and spend a couple of hours or so working on my story of a young raven named Joshua and his heroic bid to restore the true honor of the raven.

Every day I would come home to JoAnn with a few more pages of indecipherable longhand in my hand. Every day she would ask me, “How did it go?” And every day I would grin this silly grin and say something like, “I think it went pretty good, thanks.”

I self published this book a few months later. I got the book back from the printer a day after 9/11, which in one sense, may not have been the best time to start promoting it. I promoted the heck out of it, cold calling book reviewers all across the country etc. Then one day I got a very magical email.

The email was from the editor of a Spanish publishing house in Barcelona called Ediciones B. “We would like to publish your book in a hardcover edition,” she said, and offered a couple of thousand dollars as an advance. Oh my, what a happy day that was.

Just to finish the story off, JoAnn and I had been thinking for a long time how lovely it would be to have a cruise in the Mediterranean. We went ahead with our cruise, making sure that we had a little time in Barcelona to meet my new editor, who kindly invited us to lunch. They did a lovely job producing the book, and with the help of an agent in London, it was followed as I say into many more foreign languages.

Want to write a book but not sure what to write about?

Do you feel an urge to write a book, but aren’t quite sure yet what you want to write about? Here are some suggestions.

1. Don’t be in a hurry. Let things percolate in their own good time. Here are some more words from Brenda Ueland:

I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountaintop, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten — happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another.

2. Amongst the great magical parade of life, where does your unique passion and imagination find its focus? For me one area is wild animals. But go deep into your own heart and find out where the magic of living really comes alive for you, because that’s what you want to be writing about.

3. Be persistent. Don’t give up. Remind yourself that you have a unique gift to give this world through your writing, and let nothing stop you giving your gift.

4. Be genuine. Personally, I believe this is the most important aspect of all. There’s no harm, of course, in listening to experts, going to writing classes etc. But at the end of the day you will be most pleased with your efforts when you know in your heart that you expressed the highest and best that is in you, in the most interesting fashion you could.

Have a go at moodling. Find new ideas for your novel slowly.

So long and good luck.

About the author

Christopher Foster

Christopher Foster is an author and writing coach living in Colorado.  Enjoy more posts by Chris at his blog The Happy Seeker>/a> and check out his consulting services.


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