Underwater cave
Underwater cave
Underwater cave


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Starting at Stupid

Starting at Stupid

Have you [as a writer] ever been asked: where do you get your ideas?

For a long time, this question bothered me.

I’ve figured out: from extensive research and, a few bouts of fisticuffs, that some people don’t have notions pouring out of their brains every moment of the day.

For example:

Imagine finding a big old wardrobe.

A normal person would think: I bet that’s an interdimensional portal to a universe run by a peahen.


Gosh, I wish I’d bought my monster-fighting-poker-stick with me today because that wardrobe is probably full of insane, couch-sized termites.

Normal stuff; normal people think, when encountering a giant wardrobe, right?


There are people in the world who only see wardrobes.

When they open a closet door, they expect to see clothes and shoes.

I know; the mind boggles!

If this is you: sorry.

You are fundamentally broken.

A normal brain [defined: for the purposes of this writing—as any brain who sees interdimensional portals and dragons on a regular basis] should be able to look at a random object: a jacket, a cup a dirty drain, and come up with a story.

If you stop to ponder the intricacies of human interaction in mundane objects; possible narratives abound.

A noisy washing machine is not simply annoying: it’s a lost, mermaid, princess trying to claw her way free of her white-goods prison.

A glass of water is not only a container; it’s the home to a friendly, but invisible, Japanese, water-spirit who was, until recently, was growing inside the tap.

If you are a person who lives solely in reality…I salute you.

I couldn’t do what you do.

And if you write, and yet don’t have a million ideas pouring out of your mind at any given moment, how do you get a story going?

Do you use an online story generator website?

Story cubes?


Or do you stand on your head, in the corner of the room, until something occurs to you?

The thing is, if you think, “I never know what to write,” the issue probably isn’t that you have a catastrophic lack of imagination.

It’s more likely that you haven’t given yourself permission to write something stupid.

Stupid can be an excellent place to start. [Trust me I’m stupid a lot!]


Because if you deliberately set out to be ridiculous, it’s hard to mess up.

Not everything you write has to be amazing. You’re allowed to write crappy weirdness until something profound breaks lose.

And it will.

But first, you have to get over the idea that all ideas have to be incredible-world-changing-marvels, and put some damn words on the page!

The more you string sentences together, the easier it will get and the closer you will come to a non-stupid story.

Even a story about a blue cow giving birth to television is better than getting drunk in front of a blank screen.

Though it does sound horribly uncomfortable for the cow. Unless it was a small television. Or a really big cow.

Great: now all I can think about is birthing cows.


We’ve established that you don’t have to be JK Rowling from day one. You are allowed to be a bit awful.

Here’s the part, where I give some sort of practical trick to help the lesson stick.

I do not have a practical trick.

Originally I was just going to rabbit on about being stupid, but according to people who do this type of thing seriously: people who read this stuff, want more.



Here you are with this terrible need to write, but you’re paralysed by doubt and/or indecision.

Maybe you’re halfway through your debut novel.

Maybe you really really really need to tell the world about the ravaged depths of your deprived cabbage addiction but you can’t get it out.

What do you do?

How about an acronym…


Yes: I am aware that my stupid has two ‘p’s. Deal with it.

S. Start

Have you ever waited to become better at something?

I have:


From personal experience; waiting does not make you better at running.

If you want to improve at anything, you have to do it.

You have to Start.

T. Try

Try something new.

This is for those times where you’re stuck mid-project. You can’t decide where to take your story and you’ve worn a head-shaped hole in your wall. At this point. Take a break and Try something different.

If you’ve only ever written poetry; try prose.

If you’re a nutty epic historical novelist; try a haiku.

Trying something new hits the reset in your noggin and gives you a dose of creative fiber.

Do a flash fiction competition. Edit a fellow author’s work.

When you return to the ‘big project of destiny’ it’ll be unstuck.

U. Um

The sound of me, trying to figure out a thing for the letter ‘u’.

Tell you what…I’ll come back to that one.

P. Persistence

People tell me they like to “wait for the muse to arrive”. So they only write when inspiration strikes.

Whaaaaat? I’m sorry, you what now?

You…wait for inspiration?

That’s like waiting for food to magically appear in your fridge.

Go to the bloody shop and buy some groceries! Then when the muse walks her fine and fickle bum into your living room, you’ll be finishing your novel. Like a grownup!

Persistence means committing to your writing. Putting time aside to do it. Showing up. The more you write, the easier it gets.

Just like everything else.


I don’t want to say: perfection is dumb.


Perfection is dumb.

Does the phrase: “near enough is good enough, freak you out?”

Only carpenters and nuclear physicists should worry about the above statement…and maybe cardiologists…any sort of surgeon…

Okay in a lot of cases: near enough is not good enough.

Not so writing.

You’re better off getting a complete story that needs work: than a wonderful first paragraph and nothing else.

I have never bought an amazing first paragraph on its own. They’re a hard sell.

Ignore your inner critic.

Let’s face it: it’s a dick.

And it will suck the joy out of your writing. You’ll need it later on. But get the story down first. Then, maybe, bring the critic into the light: on a lead.

D. Dangerous.

Write dangerously.

Make a list of the worst things that could happen: the dumbest vilest/soppy/clichéd/ridiculous ideas you can.

Pick one. Then write it.

There is no harm in writing dangerously awful words. The worst that can happen is: you have fun.

Oh no!

You might remember fun from when you started writing.

It was good, right?

Giving yourself permission to be awful will trigger a good idea.

It will.

Oh I have come up with a U word. Up the ante.

When you don’t know how to proceed: get mean!

Writers are evil. Embrace it.

Does this shock you?

It shouldn’t.

If JK Rowling was a kind and loving human, Lilly and James wouldn’t have been murdered. And if they HAD to die, Harry would have gone to live with affable relatives who bred Cavalier puppies.

Hmmmm puppies!

And have you seen what Robin Hobb does to her main characters?


Pure Evil!

Admittedly, I didn’t realise I was evil until I gleefully encouraged a friend to murder a character: “because she was bored”.

To be a writer is to be cruel. Embrace it!

There you have it: STUPPID


Try new things

Up the ante

Persist—keep writing!

Perfection is dumb!

Ignore your inner critic

Dangerous—write the dangerously dumb ideas

Start with stupid.

Trust me.

I am.

Photo by Jane Almon on Unsplash

© 2023, Joss Cannon