How to Get Ideas for Your Writing

While I’m in France, teaching writing, sitting by the Mediterranean, eating good cheese and bread, and drinking lots of wine, I’m offering either a collection of writing prompts, story starters, or exercises each week. This week, I have suggestions for how to get ideas for you. I hope it helps you to generate all kinds of juicy ones!

Writers need an endless flow of ideas. We need ideas for big projects, like a novel or a memoir, that will keep us engaged over the long haul.  We need ideas for all the things that go into long projects. We need ideas for small projects like short stories and essays. We need ideas for content—blog posts, sales copy, newsletters.

How do you get ideas?  Do you struggle to find them, or do they come to you in an endless flow that is frustrating only because you can’t act on all of them? Although most creative types fall into the latter category, I think if we’re honest we’ll also admit that there are fallow times when ideas aren’t quite so forthcoming.  Your writing life will be a lot happier and less stressful if you realize that this is part of the creative cycle and don’t beat yourself up over it.

  1. Keep a list of ideas. I have a pretty little Amy Butler three-ring binder that I keep ideas for blog posts and articles in.  This morning I perused them as I pondered what to write.  Even if you don’t use an idea from the list, looking back over it will get your brain going.
  2. Go surfing. Spend a few minutes navigating about on the web and see what jogs your interest.  Warning: this can be dangerous.  As in, an hour later you’re still reading articles and posts, justifying it because you’re supposedly searching for ideas.  To avoid this, give yourself a time limit. Set a timer, if need be.
  3. Go for a walk. This is the antithesis of #2.  But it is amazing how physical movement can jog your brain and let ideas flood in.  I find it especially helpful when I need inspiration in the middle of a project.
  4. Just start writing.  Not for the faint of heart, because it can so often bear no fruit.  But if you’re really desperate for an idea pull out pen and paper and start writing.  See what happens.  You might surprise yourself.  You can also:
  5. Collect prompts. The reason why prompts are popular is because they work.  A prompt is a jump-starter for your writing, a sentence or phrase that you use to get going.   I like to use them to gather ideas for current projects as well as to just practice writing.  It is best to cultivate prompts the way you cultivate friends–keep a list of them handy so you can go to it when needed.
  6. Read a book. A real book.  Step away from the computer screen and pick up a book, any book.  Grab a volume of poetry and sit with it for 15 minutes.  See if that doesn’t get the juices flowing.
  7. Visit a museum.  Or an art gallery.  Or an art supply store.  Or a stationery or office supply store.  Or a book store.  Go somewhere that contains either the finished product of creative effort or offers supplies for said activity.  A location that showcases finished containers or offers empty ones.  Either will inspire.

Bonus Item: Meditate or pray.  Or if you don’t like any of that woo-woo stuff, get quiet and breathe.  Ask for an idea.  See what happens.  It might be magic.

What are your favorite ways to get ideas?

I will return to regular love letter programming on September 30th.

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Derek
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Thanks for sharing such a long list! Whilst reading through them, I feel that they would work well for creating non-fictional blog posts too… I enjoy doodling and playing around with mind-maps away from the computer using drawings, words and different colours. Sometimes ideas that are totally dissociated from each other can come together in a very clever way. I guess my mind maps can become good prompts, and like characters in a story, they can often ‘design themselves’. For instance, using your list here… pets I have had will remind me of family members as they were back in… Read more »