One of the most difficult things to do in writing is to come up with an idea. Sometimes a lack of ideas can cause writer’s block. You’ll need ideas whether you are writing creatively, for class, or for your business. Here is a list of things that you can do to come up with ideas for your writing.
- Keep an idea file. I have two – a folder on my computer desktop and a hard copy folder for ideas I came up with while sitting in a restaurant. The folder on my desktop is broken into file categories. I have categories for my content marketing articles, for blog posts, for short stories, for novels, for poetry…the list goes on. The hard copy folder is a catch-all. As time permits, I enter the ideas into the appropriate file in the desktop folder. By having such a file to go back to, you’ll quickly find you have more ideas than time to write.
- If you are taking a class, the best time to come up with an idea for that term paper at the end of the semester is now. As you complete your reading assignments, keep a list of topics that interest you. For example, if you are taking a history class, keep a running file of people and events you would like to know more about. If you have questions for your professor, keep track of those as well. Something that seems simple can form the basis of a great term paper.
- A second way to gather ideas for your writing is to allow space when you are taking notes on a meeting, lecture, or class on your paper to write down any ideas that come to you. Attending a lecture on social responsibility? That question that dawns on you halfway through might provide a good place to start for an article or term paper. If you talk to the presenter afterward, it’s even possible that you will have an interview source for that piece.
- Record snippets of conversation. While you’re waiting for your meal in a diner, sometimes you overhear strange snippets of conversation. By recording them on paper, you can sometimes find the basis of a story.
- Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen at The Adventurous Writer suggests working in different places as a great way to come up with ideas for your writing in her blog post, “Writing Inspiration from Margaret Laurence.” By breaking free of your routine, you can give yourself the freedom to think differently about the world.
- Remember in school when you would do the classic “brainstorming” exercise? Write the topic you want to write about in the center of the page and circle it. Then write words that come to your mind around it. Repeat many times until you have several ideas.
- In Mary Jacsch’s post, “Zen Power Writing: 15 Tips on How to Generate Ideas and Write with Ease” at Write to Done, she suggests coming up with the title first. Keep a list of potential titles in your idea folder.
- Read. Some of my ideas come from newspaper articles (and advice columns) that I’ve read. When I find a newspaper article that sparks my creativity, I cut it out and put it in my ideas folder. I also subscribe to several RSS feeds of major newspapers – The New York Times, USA Today, and San Francisco Chronicle. These can be great sources for both fiction and nonfiction articles.
- Complete writer’s exercises and writing prompts. File the results away for another time. There are several great books for this. One such book is The Writer’s Idea Book by Jack Heffron. Another great book is What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. If you’re still itching for writing exercises you might want to check out Bonni Goldberg’s Room to Write.
- Play the “What-if?” game. Ask yourself, “What if stocks rose tomorrow?” “What if the South had won?” “What if Al Gore was right?” “What if Kennedy hadn’t been assassinated?” “What if it is all just a dream?” Come up with your own and give answers to each one. Similarly, you can ask “How?” “Why?” “When” “Where” and “What” questions and come up with a list of topics.
- Keep what’s known as a “Swipe File” of inspiring pieces. Skellie recommends this and gives great tips on keeping such a file in the blog post, “Why You Should Start a Swipe File Today.” I have a file of poems that have inspired me for times when I’m not sure what to do.
- Mine your memories. Our own experiences can be a great source of inspiration for writing.
What are some of the ways you come up with ideas for your writing?