Beyond Linear Thinking: Embracing the idea generation phase of writing your book

Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to work with teen writers again, and I gotta say, I love their energy and their honesty.

But, I was reminded, yet again, that all writers, regardless of age, skill, education, and confidence can struggle with the same things.

A few weeks ago, I had almost the same discussion with a bright seventeen-year-old boy who would rather be doing anything than writing and a highly educated middle-aged woman who was excited to be embarking on her book-writing journey.

The first writer, the teen, had already assured me, repeatedly, that he can’t write. During this particular conversation, I was conferencing with him on a piece about his truck when he said, “Mrs. Isaman, none of this makes sense. My ideas are all bouncy. I can’t do this, remember?”

He glared at me, frustration furrowing his brow.

I glared back, assured him he could, ignored his protests, and continued asking questions and jotting down his answers which he ultimately shaped into a solid little article. (Much to his chagrin, he eventually admitted that he might even be a little bit proud of it.) #win

Later that same week, I had a client session with a smart, educated middle-aged woman about her nonfiction book. We had just begun working on the foundational pieces and were reviewing her first stab at clarifying her audience, point, and big ideas.

“I’m so sorry,” she said.

“What are you sorry for?” I asked.

“This is a mess. It was really hard. I wanted to just sit down and write this, but my ideas are all over the place.”

“Kinda bouncy?” I said.

“Exactly,” she responded. “It’s frustrating.”

I nodded, biting back a smile as I realized how similarly these two very different humans felt about writing.

Ideas are messy

Both of these writers, who are worlds away in terms of life experience, confidence, and even education, were incredibly frustrated with themselves and their writing process, for the exact same reasons.

Two elements of these conversations struck me:

  1. Both described their early stages of writing, the idea generation phase, as “bouncy” and “all over the place”
  2. Both judged themselves quite harshly for failing to generate ideas in a linear fashion

First, the idea generation phase IS bouncy. It’s how ideas come to us. They do not arrive in a perfectly linear order, ready for us to capture them.

Yet, for some reason, we expect them to. And when they don’t?

It must mean there’s something wrong with us.

Let me assure you that there is nothing wrong with you if your ideas arrive in a seemingly haphazard and random order, or if your pile of ideas is a big, huge, disastrous mess that feels impossible to sort through.

This is how ideas happen. For everyone. It’s how we find our brilliance.

Why we expect ideas to come to us without the mess

Virtually all content we consume, whether it’s a book, an article, a blog post like this one, a video, or a social media post, has been revised and edited.

As consumers, we only see the end product.

We don’t see the mess at the beginning, so we wrongfully assume that this polished edited piece we’re consuming must have arrived in the writer’s brain in this perfectly structured, entertaining, logical order.


It did not.

After working with hundreds and hundreds of writers over my career, I can confidently say that we all have “bouncy” ideas, and that, my friends, is a strength.

It means you have ideas to play with, to put in some sort of order.

You need ideas, a whole big mess of them, in order to craft a book. It’s much easier to cut ideas that aren’t working and find the hidden gems than it is to try to write when you don’t have much to say to begin with.

Welcoming the Idea Mess

Let your brain bounce around and play with the ideas.

Rather than judging and fighting your bouncy brain, embrace all your ideas, no matter how random or messy, and capture them when they come. You will for sure have ideas that won’t make the final cut. And that’s perfectly normal.

The hard work of writing a book happens when you begin to structure and craft all of your ideas into a whole so that they make a cohesive point and take your reader on a journey.

Are you ready to get started? This is what I do with writers in my Book Foundations program. We sort through all of those ideas and begin to shape them into some sort of form. If so, let’s chat. I currently have one spot open for a Book Foundations client.


  1. Nash Bean on August 18, 2023 at 3:27 am

    Thank you for sharing your insights on the idea generation phase of writing! It’s reassuring to know that even writers of different ages and backgrounds experience similar challenges and frustrations. Your perspective on embracing the messiness of ideas and understanding that it’s a natural part of the creative process is truly encouraging. Your advice to capture all ideas and then work on shaping them into a cohesive narrative is a valuable approach. Your Book Foundations program sounds like a fantastic way to help writers navigate this process. Keep inspiring and guiding writers on their creative journeys!

    • Amy Isaman on August 19, 2023 at 3:37 pm

      Thanks so much for your kind words. I appreciate that!!

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