Play and pretend your way to writing ideas
My little niece used to love to sit with a grown-up book spread across her lap, reading a story out loud — except she couldn’t read yet. She was making it all up — pretending.
During play, she invented new words. One time we were playing with some toys, and I asked one of their names. Without missing a beat, she made up the name Hoken. Hoken sounds to me like a great name for a character in a science fiction or fantasy story.
Play and pretend can lead to some innovative writing ideas, whether you’re looking for a simple concept for starting a new writing project or trying to break through a block in a project that you’re already working on. Read more
Are you in search of ideas for writing a book?
Almost every writer on the planet wants to write a book.
Some have finished a manuscript and others are already published, but many more dream, talk, and think about completing a full draft and seeing their name on a book cover.
Some already have a book in the works while others have several half-finished drafts floating around. Some can’t even get started. They have too many ideas to choose from, or they are waiting for the right idea.
You could spend your whole life waiting. Read more
Descriptive writing ideas. Do your readers see what you see?
Descriptive writing is the art of painting a picture with words.
In fiction, we describe settings and characters. In poetry, we describe scenes, experiences, and emotions. In creative nonfiction, we describe reality.
Classic literature was dense with description whereas modern literature usually keeps description to a minimum.
Compare the elaborate descriptions in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy with the descriptions in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Both series relied on description to help the readers visualize an imagined, fantastical world, but Rowling did not use her precious writing space to describe standard settings whereas Tolkien frequently paused all action and spent pages describing a single landscape.
This isn’t unique to Tolkien and Rowling; if you compare most literature from the beginning of of the 20th century and earlier to today’s work, you’ll see that we just don’t dedicate much time and space to description anymore.
I think this radical change in how we approach description is directly tied to the wide availability of film, television, and photography. Let’s say you were living in the 19th century, writing a story about a tropical island for an audience of northern, urban readers. You would be fairly certain that most of your readers had never seen such an island and had no idea what it looked like. To give your audience a full sense of your story’s setting, you’d need pages of detail describing the lush jungle, sandy beaches, and warm waters.
Nowadays, we all know what a tropical island looks like, thanks to the wide availability of media. Even if you’ve never been to such an island, surely you’ve seen one on TV.
Descriptive Writing in the 21st Century
This might explain why few books on the craft of writing address descriptive writing. The focus is usually on other elements, like character, plot, theme, and structure. While modern readers don’t require lengthy descriptions, descriptive writing is an essential skill, even in the 21st century.
For contemporary writers, the trick is to make the description as precise and detailed as possible while keeping it to a minimum. Most readers want characters and action with just enough description so that they can imagine the story as it’s unfolding.
Descriptive writing is especially important for speculative fiction writers and poets. If you’ve created a fantasy world, then you’ll need to deftly describe it to readers. Lewis Carroll not only described Wonderland; he also described the fantastical creatures that inhabited it. In poetry, the challenge is to describe things in a way that is visceral.
Simple descriptions are surprisingly easy to execute. All you have to do is look at something (or imagine it) and write what you see. But well crafted descriptions require writers to pay diligence to word choice, to describe only those elements that are most important, and to use engaging language to paint a picture in the reader’s mind.
10 Descriptive Writing Ideas
Here are some descriptive writing ideas that will inspire you while providing opportunities to practice writing description. If you don’t have much experience with descriptive writing, you may find that your first few attempts are flat and boring. If you can’t keep readers engaged, they will wander off. Work at crafting descriptions that are compelling and mesmerizing.
- Go to one of your favorite spots and write a description of the setting: it could be your bedroom, favorite coffee shop, or a local park. Leave people, dialogue, and action out of it. Just focus on explaining what the space looks like.
- Who is your favorite character from the movies? Describe the character from head to toe. Show the reader not only what the character looks like but also how the character acts. Do this without including action or dialogue. Remember: description only!
- Thirty years ago we didn’t have cell phones or the Internet. Now we have cell phones that can access the Internet. Think of a device or gadget that we’ll have thirty years from now and describe it.
- Since modern fiction is light on description, many young and new writers often fail to include descriptions, even when the reader needs them. Go through one of your writing projects and check to see that elements readers may not be familiar with are adequately described.
- Sometimes in a narrative, a little description provides respite from all the action and dialogue. Make a list of things from a story you’re working on (gadgets, characters, settings, etc.) and for each one, write a short description of no more than a hundred words.
- As mentioned, Tolkien often spent pages describing a single landscape. Choose one of your favorite pieces of classic literature, find a long passage of description, and rewrite it. Try to cut the descriptive word count in half.
- When you read a book, use a highlighter to mark sentences and paragraphs that contain description. Don’t highlight every adjective and adverb. Look for longer passages that are dedicated to description.
- Write a description for a child. Choose something reasonably difficult, like the solar system. How do you describe it in such a way that a child understands how he or she fits into it?
- Most writers dream of someday writing a book. Describe your book cover.
- Write a one-page description of yourself.
If you have any descriptive writing ideas to add to this list, feel free to share them in the comments.
Tips for developing essay writing ideas.
Around here, we’re usually so focused on fiction, poetry, and journaling that we often forget about another form of creative writing: the essay.
The first essay that captured my attention and got me interested in essay writing was Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” which was also my first introduction to satire:
Written and published anonymously in 1729, the essay suggested that impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies. This satirical hyperbole mocked heartless attitudes towards the poor, as well as Irish policy in general. (Source)
“A Modest Proposal” is a harsh piece of writing but is both creative and socially conscious. Essays can also be academic, personal, or analytic. In terms of subject matter, essays can run the gamut. And while essays are often associated with academia because they are often assigned by schoolteachers and professors, plenty of writers have eked out careers publishing essays on a wide range of topics.
Today, we’ll focus on developing essay writing ideas, but first let’s look at a few types of essays.
What is an Essay?
The word essay comes from the French word essayer, which means “to try” or “to attempt.” An essay is a short format of writing, which usually presents an author’s personal point of view and can include criticism, arguments, observations, recollections, and reflections around a focused topic. Usually written in prose, the essay falls somewhere between an article and a short story.
According to Wikipedia there are three branches of essay writing:
Personal and autobiographical essays: These use “fragments of reflective autobiography” to “look at the world through the keyhole of anecdote and description.”
Objective and factual: In these essays, the authors “do not speak directly of themselves, but turn their attention outward to some literary or scientific or political theme.”
Abstract-universal: These essays “make the best … of all the three worlds in which it is possible for the essay to exist.” This type is also known as Giraffe Style Writing.
So, how does one come up with essay writing ideas? One place to start is by thinking about the type of essay you want to write.
Types of Creative Essays
Because essays are so broad and can range from academic or analytic to highly personal, we can further place various types of essays in an unlimited number of categories. Let’s look at a few types of creative essays:
Narrative Essay: Narrative essays are similar to short stories except they are nonfiction and usually relate to a core topic or theme. Such an essay usually makes a point using story as an example. These are excellent essays for journal keepers and short fiction writers.
Descriptive Essay: A descriptive essay avoids the author’s personal thoughts and feelings and focuses on the who, what, where, when, why, and how. These essays are ideal for anyone who likes to examine a subject from every angle and for writers who enjoy composing descriptive prose.
Personal Essay: A personal essay relates an author’s thoughts or feelings on any given subject. Subject matter can range from food, health, and parenting to political or philosophical beliefs. The writer’s personal experiences may be the basis for such an essay; however, personal experiences may be absent.
Reflective Essay: A reflective essay is a stand-alone piece and usually meant for publication. This is an essay about a personal experience, which is intertwined with thoughts (reflections) on it.
Response Essay: A response essay is similar to a personal essay in that it relates the author’s thoughts and feelings, except it speaks specifically about the author’s reaction to something; books, movies, travels, and other events and experiences are all fair game.
Argumentative of Persuasive Essay: These essays present the author’s position on an issue and apply logic, reason, and often, statistics and research, to back up the author’s opinions. Persuasive essays are designed to convince readers to do something or see some issue from a certain perspective.
This is just a small sample of the various types of creative essays you might write. You may find that just by reviewing the different types of essays, something clicks and you’re struck with inspiration. However, you may need to look to your passions and interests to generate essay writing ideas; you may need to start with a topic.
Writing Ideas: Choosing a Topic
In the world of essays, there are unlimited topics that you can explore. In fact, topical essays are considered one of the many types of essays that you can write.
Here are a few good strategies for selecting a topic if you’re looking for essay writing ideas:
- What are you most passionate about? What gets your blood boiling or makes you want to do a happy dance? Write an essay about it.
- What do you know a lot about? It could be something you studied in school or it could be career-related. Your knowledge base provides great fodder for essay topics.
- What do you want to learn more about? You can always conduct research for an essay, and if there’s some subject you’d like to learn about, then conducting that research for an essay is a great way to get started.
Let’s say you’re writing a science fiction novel and want to learn more about our solar system so you can depict space travel. You could write a descriptive essay of our solar system and start the project by writing a long list of questions to which you need the answers in order to get started.
Tips for Publishing Essays
Many publications accept essay submissions. You can write an essay for a specific publication or you can write an essay and find a publication for it later. Be sure to check the publications’ submission guidelines and follow them accordingly. For example, some publications only take academic or analytic essays; others may be looking for essays that deal with specific subject matter. In traditional publishing, you might find essay collections difficult to break into. You usually need a few publication credits (clips) or expertise in a field before landing a publishing deal in this form.
If you’re a prolific essay writer, you can always self-publish your essays on your website or through any of the many self-publishing avenues available.
Do You Write Essays?
Essay writing is a broad field for writers to explore. Some of the greatest artists, thinkers, and leaders have been essayists and contributed their thoughts, feelings, and perspectives to the greater culture through the written word. Have you ever written an essay that wasn’t assigned? What subject matter do you like to explore in essays? Where do you find essay writing ideas? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment, and keep writing!
Where do you get ideas for writing?
In fiction writing, we’re often inspired with a what-if question: What if an innocent citizen is convicted of murder? What if humanity finds itself facing total extinction? What if that rabbit hole leads to a fantastical wonderland? Fiction is driven by imagination.
Ideas for writing creative nonfiction often arise from experience and interest rather than imagination. Instead of asking a what-if question, creative nonfiction writers set out to share their experiences, knowledge, ideas, and curiosities.
Young and new writers often wonder what they should write about. Where should they focus their efforts? Creative nonfiction is a vast genre and can be quite lucrative. Readers are always looking for advice and information. People love reading real-life accounts by writers with firsthand experience. Whether you write a memoir about a personal experience you’ve had or launch a blog related to your field of expertise, creative nonfiction offers a world of possibilities.
Creative Nonfiction: Ideas for Writing
Writers who are on a quest for inspiration can look inward to find a wealth of ideas for writing creative nonfiction.
1. Start with yourself. Writing an autobiography involves telling your life story. You get to share your experiences, successes, and failures. The ideas for such a project come directly from your own memories. The trouble with autobiographies is that readers are rarely interested in reading biographical information about total strangers. Unless you’re a public figure, there might be little interest in your project. The good news is that you can fictionalize your life story, turn it into a novel, and pursue fiction readers. Or you can narrow your focus and write a memoir.
2. What is a memoir? A memoir is not a life story; it’s a personal account of a particular experience. For example, if you’ve survived an illness, disaster, or trauma, that experience might provide the foundation for a memoir. Writing of this nature is more appealing to readers because it speaks to a specific audience. Young parents whose children are struggling with autism, for example, will be highly interested in reading a memoir by a parent who raised a child with autism. What makes memoirs so popular is the promise that through personal experience, the writer has obtained expertise and is now sharing it with the world.
3. Are you an expert? Creative nonfiction does not have to come from personal experience. If you’re an expert on any subject, you can write about it. It might be the subject you studied in school, the work you’ve done throughout your career, or a hobby that you’ve enjoyed and mastered. Many writers avoid this type of writing, assuming that there is already enough information out there. But new works are being published every day on a wide range of topics. What makes them succeed is not necessarily the information that is imparted, but the manner in which it is presented. A unique voice, a new take on the subject, and a fresh way to organize the information are all viable strategies.
4. What’s your passion? You can take your personal experience and acquired expertise on anything in the world and turn it into a writing project. These days, writers share their thoughts and insights on everything from their favorite TV shows and video games to the meals they eat and books they read. You can write about the philosophy of Star Trek. You could share tips and strategies for playing (and winning) popular video games. If you love coffee and have a penchant for taking pictures, set out to make a coffee table book about coffee. If you spend your mornings gardening and your evenings creating delicious home-cooked meals, you can launch a blog packed with tips and ideas for gardening, cooking, or healthy eating. You don’t have to be an expert or a professional to talk about your passion.
5. Set out on an adventure or run an experiment. Elizabeth Gilbert set out on a year of adventure and then wrote about it and became a best selling author. A.J. Jacobs has built a life and a career around experimental adventures. He read all thirty-two volumes of the Enclycopedia Britannica and then wrote about it. He spent a year living biblically and then wrote about it. He also experimented with outsourcing his entire life, and then wrote about it. If you’ve ever wanted to embark on a grand adventure or found yourself concocting experimental lifestyles, you may find ideas for writing creative nonfiction within your own curiosity.
Where Do You Get Ideas for Writing Projects?
Ideas for writing books, blogs, and articles are all around you. These ideas also exist inside you. Your questions, curiosities, experiences, and interests all have the potential to launch your next writing project.
Where do you get most of your ideas?
Which of your writing ideas is leading the pack?
There are always too many writing ideas or not enough of them.
Some days, we writers are so overwhelmed with ideas, it’s impossible to get anything done. Should you work on your novel? That essay you’re writing for your favorite magazine? You have an original premise for a short story. And you feel a poem coming on.
Other days, we just can’t find any inspiration.
Prioritizing Your Writing Ideas
Prioritizing your writing ideas will help you stay focused on projects you’ve already started. Too often, we writers run around chasing one idea after another, never finishing the big projects we’ve begun. A priority list that we follow with due diligence will encourage us to finish what we’ve started. And when inspiration is fleeting, we can turn to our priority list and it will remind us that we have plenty of ideas ready and waiting to be explored.
It’s a good idea to keep track of all your ideas, and most writers are already adept at this. We jot our ideas down in our notebooks. We litter our work areas with ideas scrawled on sticky notes. We scrawl concepts on random bits of scrap paper and cocktail napkins. You probably already have a boatload of projects incubating all around you. Now, you just need to get them in order.
Keeping a master list of projects (including your works-in-progress and future project ideas) is a good way to start prioritizing. Electronic lists work well because you can move things around. Note cards are also good organizational tools because you can spread them out, color code them by form, genre, or deadline, and keep them in a box or bound them with a rubber band for easy storage and access.
How to Prioritize Your Writing Ideas
Before you prioritize your writing ideas, create a neat and manageable list using a spreadsheet, word processing document, or set of note cards. Then you can starting putting things in order.
1. Finish What You’ve Started
You’re three chapters into a novel when you come up with a breakthrough story idea for another novel. So you promptly shove your current project to the back burner and move on to the next idea. This is no way to get things done. Make a list of all your unfinished projects — the ones you fully intend on completing. Tackle those first. Add any new ideas to the bottom of the list and refrain from working on your new ideas until you’ve wrapped up the old ones.
2. Do it for Money
I’m not a big believer in making art just for the money, but we all have to eat. If you have projects that will ensure there is food on the table and a roof over your head, then get to those first. Business before pleasure, my friends.
3. Do it for Love
Nothing carries a creative project like passion. If you have tons of writing ideas and aren’t sure which one to focus on first, follow your heart. If you’ve finished your other projects and are eating well, then do what you love.
4. Little Things Come First
When you have a huge list, it can help to work through the little projects first — the ones that will only take a few hours or a couple of days. This is a great way to shorten your project list and get a lot done in a short amount of time. But take care — little projects have a way of popping up all over the place. Make sure you don’t let small projects keep piling up in front of your bigger projects.
5. Even Distribution
If you have big projects, little projects, ongoing projects, and one-time projects, short-term and long-term projects, try prioritizing one of each. In other words, write a poem, then a short story, then an essay, then start that novel, then go back to your poetry. You can go around and around. You’ll chip away at everything a little more slowly, but you’ll be well rounded for your efforts.
How Many Writing Ideas Are You Juggling?
Do you have more writing ideas than you know what to do with? Are you short on time or not sure what to tackle first? Try organizing your projects into a list and then prioritize them using these five methods for putting your projects in order. Keep adding all your new writing ideas to your list, but more importantly, keep writing.
Is your muse on vacation? Get your writing ideas here!
Have you ever sat down to start a new writing project and then realized an hour later you were still sitting there, staring idly at the blank page?
Sometimes writing ideas don’t come easy.
In a writer’s ideal world, the blank page is something we always look forward to, a fresh canvas that we can color with ideas and texture with language. When our muse is dancing around, we feel motivated and inspired, so that blank page feels like the start of an exciting adventure.
But if our mind isn’t in the right place, if our muse is on vacation, that same page is nothing but a source of frustration.
When I became a professional copywriter, I had to learn how to write whether the muse was present or not. You know how muses are, fleeting little hooligans. I couldn’t rely on mine all the time. So I learned how to get along without her. That meant coming up with my own creative writing ideas.
Outsmarting the Missing Muse
Yes, you can get along without your muse. I won’t lie to you and tell you that writing without your muse is the same. It’s less pleasant, more time consuming, and makes you feel like a struggling hack rather than the brilliant writer that you are. Still, life (and work and writing) goes on whether the muse is at your beck and call or not.
First, you have to figure out why your muse failed to show up. Here are some reasons mine runs off and hides:
- I’m just not that into this particular project and neither is she.
- The muse’s secret entrance is blocked by my stress, fatigue, or hunger.
- She’s put her time in for the day and has clocked out (the well’s run dry).
Once I recognize the problem, it’s a little easier to cope with the muse’s absence. I still miss her, but now that I know why she’s a no-show, I’m ready to forge ahead without her.
Forget the Muse, Discover Willpower
You see, the secret to facing the blank page without the muse is sheer determination. You achieve this by getting into the right frame of mind and using clever tricks to convince your brain that it can, in fact, function without the muse. I do this by telling myself any or all of the following:
- Once I get the first sentence out, the piece will start to flow.
- I don’t have to get it right (this is a rough draft, after all). I just have to get it written.
- If I hurry up and get this done, I can do something else.
Sometimes these simple reminders are all it takes to get your word machine in good working order. By forcing yourself to push ahead or promising yourself a little reward, you can actually convince your brain to become productive without its mischievous little friend. That would be your muse, for anyone who hasn’t been paying attention.
Try a New Approach for Coming up with Writing Ideas
What? You say your brain is smarter than you are, and these tricks don’t work for you? Don’t worry, I have more magic up my sleeve. After all, I’ve been outsmarting the muse for years.
- Take a break and work on a different writing project.
- Take a break and do something fun for a limited time, then force yourself to spend twenty minutes writing.
- Take a break and get your blood pumping. Exercise for twenty minutes, take a quick shower, then write for fifteen minutes.
Now, you have to be careful when it comes to taking breaks. You don’t want to stare at that blank page for five minutes, take a twenty minute break and then just repeat that cycle all the livelong day. That won’t do you any good and your absent muse will have won.
There’s a good chance your brain just needs to do a little stretching. Ever wake up in the morning and your muscles are all stiff? You yawn and stretch (and try to come alive). Sometimes your brain needs to do that too.
When you switch gears and get your wheels turning on a different project, you can build momentum for when you return to the one that’s giving you a hard time. Or, you could just be overworked and need to pamper yourself by having some fun. Play with the dog or the kids, watch some hilarous YouTube videos, or turn up the music and dance around in your underwear.
Uh oh. I said underwear.
That brings us to getting the old blood pumping. I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one on TV, so I can’t give you the biological, physiological diatribe about how blood flow and oxygen getting to your brain can make you more alert and get those creative juices flowing. But take my word for it. A little workout can do wonders for encouraging the word current. (Yes, dancing around in your underwear to really loud obnoxious music counts as a workout. Plus it’s fun, so you get two for the price of one.)
When the Muse Returns
When your muse gets back and discovers all the work you’ve done without her, you might want to gloat. This could discourage her from taking any sabbaticals in the future. Maybe you don’t want to hurt her feelings. If she’s sensitive, then gloating might only encourage her to take off more frequently. All muses are different, and I can only suggest you learn how to deal with yours through trial and error. But be sure to feed her plenty of cream puffs and chocolate éclairs.
You know what’s coming next, don’t you? Of course, because I’m so predictable. I want you to tell us all about your muse. How often does she take a vacation? How do you cope with her absence? Have you found ways to write without your muse, or are you fully codependent on her writing ideas? Is your muse a dude?
Do you have any tips for how to outsmart the muse and come up with your own writing ideas? Leave a comment but don’t tell the muses we’re talking about them. We wouldn’t want it to go to their heads.
May I use a few of your writing ideas?
From epic romances to fantastical adventures, stories have been captivating audiences for centuries, and they have been inspiring writers (and other artists) for just as long.
There is a longstanding tradition among storytellers of reimagining or extending the greatest legends, myths, and fairy tales ever told, from the greek classics to last summer’s blockbuster films.
Certainly, many derivative works are frowned upon. You can find lists of authors who do not allow (and pursue legal action against) stories written in their worlds. You can find reviews that call such stories rip-offs or refer to authors as hacks who have done nothing more than steal someone else’s writing ideas.
But you can also find some impressive and respectable derivative works in films, novels, and television. In fact, many derivative works are embraced, beloved, and achieve critical and commercial success, plus massive fan followings.
So, when is it acceptable to use other people’s writing ideas? Why do some of these stories get heavily criticized while others are widely celebrated?
Once Upon a Story…
There are many sources of inspiration for storytellers. Some writers rely on their own life experiences while others rip stories from the headlines. Existing stories, both true and fictional, have always had a heavy influence on the tales we tell and retell. How many variations of Little Red Riding Hood have been written? How many fictional movies have been set during World War II? Let’s take a look at the different techniques writers use to tell stories that are built on other stories.
Plenty of writing ideas are culled from great tales that have been told throughout history. Some of these have been converted into formulas that writers can use as storytelling guidelines.
In 1929, Joseph Campbell told the world about the monomyth, a universal pattern in storytelling that he found across cultures and throughout history. Writers turned the pattern into a formula, but perhaps nobody did so as effectively or famously as George Lucas, who used it to write Star Wars.
From the three-act structure to the hero’s journey, formulas have been criticized as making stories dull and predictable yet they have also been credited with providing writers a framework in which to create.
Historical fiction takes factual events from true stories of the past and overlays them with made-up characters or plots.
In James Cameron’s film, Titanic, two fictional characters fall in love on the historic ship that sank into the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean back in 1912. Countless novels, short stories, poems, movies, television shows, and video games have taken a bite out of history and used it as the setting for their stories.
While this practice is widely accepted as legitimate, it’s worth noting that China recently banned time travel stories because they retell history untruthfully (for the record, I think this is ridiculous and a violation of basic human rights, but let’s not get too political here). There is an argument to be made about the dangers of retelling history (take the holocaust deniers, for example) and a much stronger argument to made about making art that examines history.
Fan fiction is a favorite pastime for hobby writers who are loyal fans to their favorite franchises. Google “fan fiction” and you’ll find loads of stories set in the worlds of Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, and Twilight — all critically and commercially successful science fiction and fantasy movies and television shows. But that’s not all. Fans are also writing fiction from TV shows like Bones, Glee, and 80s nighttime soap Dynasty (yes, Dynasty! I couldn’t believe it either).
Some authors strictly prohibit writers from publishing material set in the worlds they’ve created (although they certainly can’t stop you from writing stories in your notebook). They feel that these works will negatively impact the integrity of their stories or compromise them in some way. Other creators either look the other way or encourage fans to play in their worlds. The television show Lost spewed a veritable onslaught of fan fiction and artwork, and the show’s frontrunners enjoyed the homages all the way to the bank. This relationship between creators and fans proved to be mutually beneficial. Lost became a worldwide phenomenon and one of the most-talked-about shows in history.
Generally speaking, writing fan fiction is not the best path to becoming a respectable or published author. The work is copyrighted by someone else, so you can’t publish a book or short story and get paid for it (there may be some exceptions as with contests or other programs by the few authors who are extremely supportive of fan fiction). I think fan fiction is actually a good training ground for young or new writers. It’s an ideal place to practice storytelling — because all of the elements are provided, amateur writers can focus on specific aspects of their work, such as characters or plot.
In 2010, Tim Burton brought us Alice in Wonderland (3-D). This film told the story of a 20-something Alice revisiting Wonderland, so it’s essentially a sequel to Lewis Carroll’s original Alice stories. In their 1951 animated film, Disney took Carroll’s work to the screen, combining elements from various stories and poems that Carroll had written to create a timeless classic that secured Carroll’s heroine a permanent place in our collective, cultural mythology.
This is basically fan fiction breeding fan fiction, but we categorize it differently because Lewis Carroll’s works are all in the public domain, which means anyone can take them and do whatever they want with them. You too can write an Alice story, publish it, and be safe from copyright infringement or intellectual property lawsuits.
When we take our writing ideas from the public domain, the work is generally referred to (not as fan fiction, but) as a reimagining, repurposing, retelling, or recycled story. Why are stories based on public domain works viewed and treated so differently from fan fiction? In these projects, writers are using material that is decades old, and the new work basically keeps the old work alive and makes it accessible to future generations.
Where Do You Get Your Writing Ideas?
All around us, there are stories being told and retold, revised and reimagined, stretched and skewed. Today, we have such easy access to stories (they’re all right at our fingertips) that it’s almost impossible not to be influenced by our favorite works. Consciously or unconsciously, many of our writing ideas come from other writers. The only question that remains is this: where do you think you get your writing ideas?
Foster curiosity to generate more writing ideas.
Even though writing ideas abound all around us, we writers sometimes get stumped.
We search for topics, plot ideas, models for our characters, and interesting language. Unfortunately, our searches don’t always yield desirable results.
But by fostering curiosity, we can ensure a constant stream of inspiration.
Some of the best writing ideas come from simply asking questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?
By using these interrogative pronouns to trigger your curiosity, you can develop questions–questions that need answers. And your answers will lead you to new writing ideas.
Curiosity Saved the Writer
Most writers are curious by nature. We look at the world around us and wonder at it. Who are these people? What are we all doing here? Where are we heading? Why do we do the things we do? How will we achieve our goals?
Remember how curious you were as a child? Everything you encountered spawned a series of questions because you were trying to learn and understand the world around you.
Bring that childlike curiosity back, and you’ll never need to look far for new, interesting writing ideas.
Questions and Writing Ideas
By fostering curiosity, we can create a fountain of ideas. It doesn’t matter what form your writing takes or what genre you’re writing in. By coming up with intriguing questions, you’ll soon find yourself overwhelmed with inspiration.
Below are some questions you can use to generate fresh writing ideas. Mix them up, change them around, and come up with your own list of questions, too:
- Who is this story about?
- Who does my main character trust? Who is the enemy?
- Who in my life could inspire a poem?
- Who am I?
- Who does this character/person care about?
- What are the characters’ goals?
- What images do I want to create with a poem?
- What related topics could be included in this project?
- What motivates people to take drastic actions?
- What if…?
- Where can I feel this poem physically? Head? Heart? Hands?
- Where did it all begin?
- Where will the characters end up?
- Where does this story take place?
- Where do these people want to be?
- When does this poem take place?
- When does a child become an adult?
- When did things change for this character?
- When did this story take place?
- When should this story end?
- Why does this story matter?
- Why is the protagonist evil?
- Why did he or she do it?
- Why would a person take a great risk?
- Why are there stars in the sky?
- How did the character land in this situation?
- How will this story make people feel?
- How do the characters know each other? How do they feel about each other?
- How do you describe something that doesn’t really exist?
- How far will the main character go to achieve his or her goal?
Keep Asking Questions
If you can keep your curiosity on fire and continue coming up with new questions all the time, you’ll find that you can write your way into answers and constantly discover new writing ideas along the way.
Try using any of the questions above as writing prompts. Simply copy and paste a question at the top of a new document (or write it in your journal) and then go–just start writing and let the answer come to you, through you, onto the page.
As you work through your writing projects, you can also use questions to help you overcome hurdles that are preventing you from crossing the finish line. Not sure how to move a plot forward? Start asking questions. Don’t know how to make a character more believable? Ask questions. Want to write a piece that is informative and entertaining? Ask away.
Throughout time, many great thinkers have used questions to prompt creative and critical thinking. Sometimes, one question will simply lead to the next, and that’s fine. As long as you keep your curiosity well oiled and let those questions flow, you’ll never be at a loss for writing ideas.
Do you have any favorite techniques for developing new writing ideas? Are there any questions you ask to get through a project or to come up with new project ideas? Share your thoughts and ideas by leaving a comment.
Work while you play: gather writing ideas while procrastinating
I love the web. In fact, I think it’s the single greatest invention of the twentieth century. It allows people to meet, connect, conduct business, and gather information quickly and easily, all from the comfort of…well, anywhere. It’s also an entertainment mecca. All that art! Music! Films! Literature! And games.
The web is an enormous resource center, playground, and time suck.
We’ve all been there: You hop on the web to look up a quick fact, check your email, or post an update to one of your (many) social media profiles. But what was supposed to be a two-minute action item stretches into a two-hour adventure as you click through an endless stretch of videos, articles, and Lolcats.
I Can Haz Writing Ideas wit My Cheezburger
Distractions affect everybody but writers are especially susceptible. As we sit crafting our prose, sometimes the muse escapes us and we’re tempted to venture away from our writing to find her again. The strongest among us will be able to resist the alluring pull of the Internet’s dazzling distractions. But most of us, in moments of great weakness and in times of desperate procrastination, will succumb to the clicking, often forgetting about the muse completely.
Now, I’m not going to encourage anyone to dawdle. But a little procrastination can be helpful. In fact, I’ve come up with lots of great ideas for blog posts while watching interviews on YouTube. I’ve concocted story ideas from images I perused on iStockPhoto. Tweets on Twitter have inspired poems. There is no limit to the writing ideas that can be found while randomly surfing around the Internet.
Mostly, I’m pretty good about restraining from distractions, but when I do succumb, I put procrastination to work for me!
I Made a Stash File
As I navigate around the internet while avoiding inevitable tasks, I come across fascinating stuff–stuff I’d like to use–but later (because, you know, right now I’m working on something, sort of). I used to use my web browser to bookmark interesting sites so I could revisit them later. Eventually I switched to social bookmarking. I was starring articles in my reader and using StumbleUpon.
Things started getting spread out. If I wanted to go back to an illustration of an alien I saw three months ago or a mesmerizing poem I found a few weeks back, I might have to scroll through all my browser bookmarks, and then log in to three or four different accounts looking for the item of interest. The system wasn’t working for me.
Then I made a stash file.
Sometimes the Simplest Solutions Are the Best
It started with a text file. I found a particular site that I wanted to use as inspiration for a poem, but I didn’t want to lose the URL or forget where I’d stored it. So, I opened my text editor. I copied and pasted the URL along with a quick note to myself and saved the file to my desktop. Later, when I was ready, I knew exactly where to find it.
I started using that same file for other writing ideas that I found online. Then, I decided to expand my stash file. I created a folder on my desktop and moved the text file into it. Now I could save images to the folder. But for some of the images, I wanted to make notes. So I added a Word document to the folder (Word lets you copy and paste images directly to the document).
Now my stash file is bustling with writing ideas. I still use my other bookmarking systems, but for ideas and inspiration, I strictly use my stash file, and I love it. Sure, paper notebooks feel like home, but when you’re collecting ideas in the digital realm, you need a digital way to store them. I mean, who wants to hand-write URLs?
Tips for Stashing Your Collection of Ideas and Inspiration
You’ll need the following:
- A desktop folder containing a text file and an MS Word file
- The ability to copy and paste
- Some time to waste
Over time, I’ve found a few ways to make this little system quite effective. For example, once I use an idea, I can delete it. This keeps the files short and easy to peruse. I’ve also thought about creating a third document that I can label “used ideas.” Then, I can just move stuff to that document and it will be there in case I need to refer back to it later.
My favorite feature in this system is that I can easily search through the material to quickly find what I’m looking for. It doesn’t matter if my documents grow to 10 pages or 100 pages because I use the Find feature. That’s when you hit command-F (control-F for Windows users) and then enter a word or phrase to search for. Within seconds I can find an item that’s buried in a document. Easy as pie.
How Do You Harvest and Store Writing Ideas?
I’m always looking for efficient ways to keep track of all the great writing ideas I come across. How do you do it?