by Jarrett Lerner

Without a doubt, the question I get asked the most by kids is this one: “Where do your ideas for stories come from?”

In response, I always say something about how ideas are mysterious, elusive things, and tell them that, if they want to be a story creator someday, they should read lots of other people’s stories, pay attention to the world around them, and make plenty of time in their lives to sit around and just wonder, imagine, and play.

But the truth of the matter is that the question is a bad one. It’s fundamentally flawed. (Don’t worry—I don’t tell the kids any of this.) Because ideas don’t come. They’re not tame, obedient things. It’s not like us writers are diners at some fancy restaurant, sitting around sipping fine wine, confident that a waiter will show up soon with a nice, juicy, perfectly prepared idea on a silver platter. No, an idea is more like a dog who’s just realized he’s about to be taken to the vet. Ideas have to be chased down, wrestled into submission, tricked or bribed with treats.

Over the years, however, I’ve developed some techniques to help generate ideas – and to then at least make the things sit and stay, if not actually come when called for. One of these is a game I like to call . . . WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE! Here’s how it works: you take two things that usually don’t go together—and then you make them go together. It was in this way that I got the idea for ENGINERDS.

Boxes are constantly being delivered to my house. Usually, they have books or cat food or laundry detergent in them. But one day, I did a little world-colliding. I wondered what might happen if a robot—a walking, talking, farting robot—showed up in a box on some kid’s doorstep.

More recently, I played this game on a long drive. I was on the highway, and I told myself that I was going to collide the next two, non-highway-ish things that I happened to pass. Road signs didn’t count. Neither did other cars. I also decided to rule out rest stops, since I’d already visited three that day and was sick of them.

Soon enough, though, I saw a cow, hanging out all by her lonesome in a big, grassy field. And shortly after that, I passed a billboard for a furniture store. Those seemed like two things that didn’t usually go together. Now all that was left to do was make them go to together.

For the next several miles, I asked myself a series of increasingly specific questions, each one helping me pick apart and develop my idea a little more. What is the cow doing at the furniture store? Is she supposed to be there? Does she work there? How and why did she get into this line of work? Does she find it fulfilling? Or does she dream of bigger, better things?

By the time I reached my hotel, I had a whole story worked out in my head about this cow who sold couches. Was it a good story? No. It was not. It was basically just a bunch of flimsy clichés strung together with some groan-inducing “moo” and “udder” puns. I wasn’t about to run up to my hotel room and write the thing down.

But the experience of finding that idea, the practice I got by unpacking it—all of that was time very well spent. It’s like exercise. It’ll make the next idea a little easier to track down and tame.

That’s what Storystorm is all about, and one of the reasons it’s so brilliant. It reminds us that, when it comes to writing, there’s a time for quality and a time for quantity. First drafts, for instance? All about quantity. Just get the story out of your head and down on paper, then go back later and polish those sentences until they’re pretty.

At this point in the month, you’ve no doubt already got yourself a nice pile of story ideas. A couple weeks from now, that pile will be a little bigger. Whether or not any of those ideas turn into a full-fledged story, rest assured that all of the piling and unpacking you do throughout the rest of the year will leave you a stronger, sharper, better-equipped storyteller.

Happy world-colliding! And happy writing!

Jarrett Lerner writes books about farting robots, belching knights, and other serious matters. You can find him online at and on Twitter at @Jarrett_Lerner. You can also often find him hanging out at the, which he cofounded and helps run.

He lives with his wife, his daughter, and a cat in Medford, Massachusetts.

Jarrett is giving away a signed copy of ENGINERDS and some enginerdy swag.

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!