The Value of an Idea Box

The Value of an "Idea Box": Foster creativity and imagination using this technique!This month, we’ve been giving you readers a number of mix-and-matched prompts picked at random from your own contributions for the Story Shuffle game. As you may have guessed, the value of an exercise like this is multi-faceted: it expands your horizons, gives you ideas, opens the door for your imagination to take over, and teaches you to just write. It’s a great way to kick writers block or just have a little fun.

But many writers have a sort of Story Shuffle game running 24/7, whether they realize it or not. Think about it—how many bits and pieces of characters, quotes, ideas, etc. do you have floating around in your head? Not just from recent brainstorming sessions or a sudden epiphany, but from years of cumulative experiences? Now what if you wrote all those down on index cards, tossed them in a box, and drew them at random?

That’s what I like to call (pretty unimaginitively, I must admit) an “idea box.” While our Story Shuffle game has its merits, the puzzle pieces you toss into your idea box are all things you thought up, came across, experienced, heard, and the like. They’re like scattered Lego pieces just waiting for the right companions to make a towering colorful metropolis, and they’re right at your fingertips. And since they’re straight from your own musings, they likely already provide some back story to get you going.

Camp NaNoWriMo is coming up, and if you plan on participating but are having a hard time getting inspired with an idea, this could be a great way to come up with one. Get all those ideas down onto paper—your cluttered brain will thank you for it!—and toss them into a box. Shuffle it up and use it to your advantage, either by drawing a single idea for a novel before April begins, or by drawing at random throughout the month to pen shorter pieces.

How you assemble your idea box is up to you. I, personally, have not so much a box but two folders—tangible and electronic. The folder on my computer is called “Scraps & Puzzle Pieces,” and the file folder I keep in my desk is simply labeled “Notes/Scraps.” In these are a myriad of characters, past story ideas that never came to fruition, maps and worldbuilding notes, scenes cut from works in progress, and everything in-between; in my opinion, anything can be turned into a story, and so I throw away nothing. Taylor has an interesting system in which she collects business cards everywhere she goes and organizes them into an accordion folder, from which she can then pluck an idea, name, or setting at random. Faye owns a cute miniature treasure chest, which she uses to store index cards with her ideas. But however you approach it, one thing’s for certain: it can only help in a time of writers block and desperation!

Do you have a system for recording and shuffling up your ideas? Have you found the Story Shuffle game in particular to be helpful? We’d love to hear what your process is like!


And, of course, what March post would be complete without a Story Shuffle prompt?

Character: A 13-year-old competitive plate spinner who’s worn the same t-shirt every day for 2 years
Setting: A secret room hidden behind a locker at a futuristic school on the moon
Era: Cold War
Item of Interest: A pair of mismatched slippers that cause the wearer to teleport to the place they’re thinking of instantly

Oooh, I like this one! Have fun with it! I think I might go start it right now…


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