What’s holding you back from a writing career? Is it a lack of time? No skill? I doubt it. I think the thing that stops most folks from a writing career is that big white rectangle staring them in the face. A blank page. A blinking cursor.

Where do you start? Where do the ideas for a great story come from? It really doesn’t matter if you want to write a letter to your grandma or the next Great American Novel. The Idea comes from a single thought. From there you build and expand until the thought has a theme and a purpose.

But there is still that darn blank screen.

Okay, don’t despair. I have some ideas on how to get started. First of all, don’t sit in front of a blank screen. Yup, I mean it. Go for a walk, do the dishes, make a cup of coffee. The thing is, you rarely will come up with an idea if you command one to come to you. Have you ever noticed that your best ideas come when you are so busy that you can’t even take the time to write it down?

Ideas are elusive, sneaky, little things. They like to pop in when they aren’t likely to be noticed. Some even show up when you’re sleeping. That’s hardly a way to run a business, just waiting for inspiration to hit, is it? Stay with me here, this is how to get started.

So by now, you have your coffee, and the dishes are done. There are side benefits to this process, see? Get a blank sheet of paper and a pen. Okay, I know we’re back at the beginning now. All you need to do is write the first word that comes to mind in the middle of the page, not too big, you will need the space later.

Say the first word you thought of was red. That’s hardly a start of a great story, but draw a short line and attach things that red pertains to. Blood, ladybugs, your favorite shirt, the color of your neighbor’s car, and so on. All kinds of random words will all be attached to your first word with little lines.

Great, the page isn’t blank now. On each of the words you thought of, draw more lines and write as many things as you can that pertain to those words. Some of the words will trigger many more paths, others will fizzle out. That’s okay, you’re sorting things out. Continue to draw connecting lines and more words. Make a mess of things. Use arrows to connect things that belong together. No erasing, and no editing is allowed, just keep writing.

When your page is full, and you are forced to write smaller and smaller just to squeeze all the thoughts in, sit back and take a look at your map. You will be able to see paths and connections all over the place. Many of your words will have nothing at all to do with the word red.

Here is an example of only one path on my sheet of paper. Red, blood, hospital, nurse, needle, drugs, addict, crime, money, work, briefcase, executive. Executive is a long way from red, but that’s where it took me on that particular path. I’ll do the same with the other paths on the page. Red, ladybugs, spots, stripes, jail, criminal. Red, flowers, roses, thorns, blood.

Now I’m going to circle or highlight my favorite words on the page. Here’s the fun part, now you get to go for a walk or do something fun. It’s not necessary to think about your words, but if they pop into your head, don’t chase them away. You may have a Muse starting.

When you get back from your walk, take a look at what you’ve got. If you want to expand more, you can take your highlighted words and start a new page with each of them. I usually don’t need to do that. By now I’m starting to get a story idea.

An executive with a red sports car is evading criminal charges for importing flowers infested with ladybugs. Gosh, he could be responsible for shutting down the entire agricultural system. There could be economic collapse and famine!

Have fun with this exercise. Allow the ideas to percolate as long as you need to. Make more word maps when you get stuck. Try to draw connections between the different word paths. Take more walks and get the dishes done. If nothing else, you will be healthier and your kitchen will be clean.