How to Get More Screenplay Ideas with One Simple Hack


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by Naomi Write + Co. in screenwriting
screenwriting blog article

Almost every writer hits a Creative Desert at some point. Those (hopefully rare) times when you want to write your next screenplay but nothing seems interesting enough to really throw yourself into. When you’re sort of flailing around in search of some spark but nothing is catching.

How do you get out of the Creative Desert?

First of all, don’t beat yourself up. It’s okay to be discerning about the ideas you’ll pursue as writing projects. That’s a good thing. As Terry Rossio says:

“…let me tell you the single most common problem I’ve found: Lack of a good concept. Very often the screenwriter has picked, right from the start, a concept that even in its best form isn’t the type of story that sells to Hollywood.”

So there’s no shame in being choosy. You want a screenplay idea you’re excited enough about to actually write to completion, and that has some market potential in the long run.

You know that’s what you’re aiming for. But how do you get there from here, if here is wandering in the Creative Desert?

Most writers keep an idea file of some sort, and that’s a great start. But that’s often more of a collection of somewhat-formed story ideas. They’re like the par-baked French loaf you get at the grocery store. Still needs cooking but it’s already clear what it’s going to be.

But there’s another type of idea file that will help you get out of the Creative Desert. It’s the file where you collect wisps of ideas… those story seeds that aren’t even half-baked concepts yet. Ingredients, really, that pique your interest.

Interest begets inspiration

I have a chef friend who goes to the farmer’s market, touching and sniffing his way through the produce on offer. You can tell when he’s found something that’s captured his interest because he lingers. You can practically see the wheels turning. Then he’ll take inspiration from, say, that one beautiful, perfectly ripe tomato and create something amazing that didn’t exist before.

Now, it would take a lot of time for my chef friend to go to each farm individually and inspect the potential ingredients. That’s why he goes to the farmer’s market – it’s a curated offering of things that are likely to interest him (in his case, local seasonal produce).

Guess what? You can easily create your own curated offering of potential interestingness. Your own market to peruse when you’re ready to start remixing and creating new screenplay concepts. Inspiration at your fingertips.

One easy hack to stock up on story seeds

Here’s the step-by-step of one method I use to keep my idea pond stocked (yep, just switched metaphors again):

1. Sign up for e-mail newsletters from magazines, news aggregators, and websites on the topics that interest you most.

Any person/group that produces content has a mailing list of people to whom they send periodic updates (speaking of which, have you signed up for the Co. Memo?)

Now, yes – signing up for a bunch of email lists means you’re going to get more email. Some people don’t like that. I get it. It goes against your Marie Kondo, new-year-new-you, inbox zero resolution.

But if you choose wisely, this is a great, easy way to make sure you’re constantly exposed to new ideas and story material with very little effort. It’s worth it.

2. To avoid e-mail overwhelm, create a filter so these subscriptions skip your inbox and go straight to a folder that you don’t have to look at until you’re ready.

(See, I’m looking out for you.)

3. Occasionally skim the headlines contained in these newsletters.

You could do this daily, or set a recurring monthly appointment to do it, or even just let the newsletters accumulate unopened until you’re in a Creative Desert and really need them – it’s up to you.

4. When a headline or story strikes a chord in your screenwriter heart, collect it into a “story seeds” file of your choosing.

I do this by adding the individual article to my Pocket account (takes one click and I can do it from any of my devices) and tagging it “story idea.”

Now you have a curated catalogue of story seeds. When you’re ready to come up with some new screenplay concepts, peruse the catalogue. You’ve already noted them as interesting, which is a good indication that inspiration will find you – either through iterating on what’s there, combining a few together, or adding one to an existing story concept that needs a little extra something.

A starter list of interesting ideas

What kinds of subscriptions will bring movie ideas right to your inbox? Here’s a list of some of my favorites to get you started:

Publications in your areas of interest

These will be different for everyone – I’m pretty sure you can figure out the topics you’re naturally lit up by, and the publications that cover those topics. I love Psychology Today; you might find more compelling stories in Sports Illustrated or Scientific American.

Current or historical news

Publications like the New York Times, Washington Post, and regional newspapers offer updates featuring current news headlines. They often also have “Today in History” type updates, which can introduce you to sometimes little-known historical events.

News alerts by keyword

Google alerts for specific keywords can be helpful if you’re interested in a niche topic or type of event. Sure, I’m probably on a watch list for tracking ‘murder’ on a daily basis, but it’s totally worth it.

Content aggregators

Sites like Lenny, The Skimm, and OZY round up headlines that are often more obscure or interest-specific than those included by the major news sites. Find one that resonates with you and you’ll have a steady influx of ideas to spark your imagination.

Email course services

A more recent trend are sites like Highbrow that offer educational mini-courses delivered to you in daily emails. The range of topics is broader than you might think and can be a good way to research lifestyle topics, niche hobbies, and new areas of interest.

Bookstore and reading enthusiast newsletters

Bookstores like Powell’s Books, your local library, and sites that review books all send email updates about their current picks. Seeing what’s new on bookshelves can expose you to new subject areas you might want to research further.

As they say, the way to have a good idea is to have A LOT of ideas. Don’t dismiss this silly hack so quickly — I’m willing to bet you’ll be swimming in new ideas if you give it a try.



Start with my 3-part email series: "The 3 Essential, Fundamental, Don't-Mess-These-Up Screenwriting Rules." After that, you'll get a weekly dose of pro screenwriting tips and industry insights that'll help you get an edge over the competition.