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 re-imagining or expanding 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? Read More
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. Read More
Creative people are always looking for inspiration, and writers are no exception.
We look to the people in our lives, to nature, and to the books, music, and films that we love. We call on our muses, we doodle, and we daydream. We record our dreams, meditate, and contemplate. And we do all these things in an attempt to find breakthrough creative writing ideas.
But we really need look no further than our local news stand, where creative writing ideas are aplenty.
Open up a newspaper, turn on the news, or surf over to your favorite news website. Guess what you’ll find? Stories. Lots and lots of stories. And lots of writing ideas. Read More
I used to actively look for writing ideas. When I wanted to write a story, I would brainstorm and ask questions that I thought would lead to something I wanted to write about.
I still do that, but over the past few years, I’ve also cultivated a more passive approach to my search for writing ideas.
Nowadays, I’m always open to new ideas for writing. Whether I’m chatting with a friend, surfing the web, or watching a movie, I’ve got this little radar in my mind that’s constantly on the lookout for ideas that I can use in my stories.
What I’ve learned is that many of my ideas come from the same sources whether I’m actively looking for them or passively bumping into them. Today, I thought I’d share some of my favorite sources of inspiration and invite you share yours as well. Read More
Have you ever been overwhelmed with writing ideas, and you didn’t know what to do with all of them? Have you ever had a brilliant idea at a bad time, like when you’re driving? How do you capture and keep track of your ideas?
There are many ways to capture and organize your ideas in writing. While it may seem obvious that if you have a good idea, you should write it down so you don’t forget about it, all those ideas can pile up. You may find yourself searching through notes, trying to find an idea you had that you want to use. You might kick yourself for failing to write down the details of an idea that you’ve now forgotten.
Fortunately, there are plenty of tools for capturing ideas in writing. All you have to do is find the tools that work for you and develop a system that you can comfortably use for organizing and tracking your writing ideas. Read More
Journal writing is most definitely an art, but how often do we actively use art in our journals?
We writers are passionate about our journals and notebooks, those sacred spaces where some of our best ideas manifest.
So it makes sense to rig our journals so they inspire us as much as possible. And what’s more inspiring than art?
Let’s look at some ways we can fuse art with journal writing in order to cultivate inspiration and creativity.
The Art Journal
Artists keep journals just like writers do. But instead of filling their journals with words, artists fill them with images — doodles, sketches, and paintings.
What happens when we fuse art and words together, when an image is accompanied by a few lines of text or when a paragraph is accented with an illustration?
Words and images complement each other. And since writing is an art, writing and art can live side by side in your journal, coming together to keep you inspired and motivated.
Fusing Art and Words for More Creative Journal Writing
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. So why write a thousand words when you can say it with an image? Save the words for whatever can’t be said with a picture or use words to expand on what an image represents. Next time you sit with your journal, experiment with art and illustration.
Here are some ideas for merging art with your journal writing:
- When words won’t come, doodle in your journal instead. You don’t have to be a trained or skilled artist to draw symbols and stick figures.
- Use your journal to sketch pictures of your fictional characters. Again, they can be stick figures. Use colored pencils to shade in their hair, eyes, etc.
- Start collecting images that inspire you. Pick up postcards that capture your imagination and clip images from magazines, and then paste them into your journal. Use them as prompts and write about what you see.
- Practice writing descriptions. Tape an image in your journal, then write a full-page description of the image. Does the description you wrote render the image in the reader’s mind? Imagery is an important element in writing, and crafting descriptions will help you hone your writing skills.
- Mix journal writing and art within the pages of your notebook. Draw a little, write a little. Let the words run over the pictures and vice versa. Use light-colored markers to create big, bold shapes and then fill the shapes with words.
You can add more art to your journal, too. Jot down your favorite song lyrics. Describe a favorite piece of music. Include your favorite photography. Allow all the arts to come together by merging journal writing with other creative forms of expression.
And don’t worry about artistry, except when it comes to words. Lots of writers enjoy other arts, but it’s impossible to master them all. Stay focused on writing if that’s your greatest strength, but allow yourself to explore the full potential of your creativity and artistry.
Do you have any journal writing tips? Got any writing ideas to add or experiences to share? Leave a comment, and keep writing!
I recently flipped through my copy of Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge’s Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words, and after just a couple of chapters, my imagination was on fire.
I’m always looking for new ways to inspire writing ideas, and lately I’ve been thinking that we should talk more about a writer’s most basic building blocks: words. So using words as a way to come up with writing ideas sounded ideal to me.
In Poemcrazy, Wooldridge talks about collecting words. She captures words, stores them, and then stashes them in all kinds of interesting places where they might come in handy.
As I read about how this brilliant poet gathers words so she can use them to jump-start her creative writing, I saw how the idea could apply to any kind of writer, not just a poet. I also saw how physically collecting words could be exhilarating.
After all, words are the key ingredients to every concoction that we writers cook up. Some writers view words as means to an end — they’re the raw materials and nothing more. Then there are those writers who appreciate a wonderful word, writers who pause when they come across a word that’s compelling in its own right, a word that moves or grooves even if it’s just sitting there all by itself.
Chasing and Capturing Words
As Woodridge says, we can borrow, trade, steal, even invent words for our own pleasure. To find words, you have to pay attention. You’ll discover them in your environment (around the house or when you’re out and about), in conversations, in your reading material, on TV, and in the songs you listen to. They are the labels we use for ordinary objects, extraordinary moments, and anything unusual.
I plucked eviscerate from a favorite R.E.M. song. Arbitrary came from a television show. Humma humma — something my mom used to say when I was a kid (it means “ho hum” or “that’s hot,” depending on the inflection). Wooldridge’s favorite method is to take walks and grab words from nature or from field guides. She notes, “My friend Tom’s Ford pickup repair manual is chock full of great words: luminosity probe, diesel throttle, control tool, acceleration pump link, swivel, internal vent valve, choke hinge pin…”
Once you attune yourself to all the words you come into contact with every day, you need a place to stash the ones that speak to you. Jot them down in your journal, on index cards, or sticky notes. Use postcards, gift tags, or scrap paper. Lots of these are easy to tote around (a friend of Wooldridge’s always tucks a few index cards in her back pocket). Be sure to carry a pen.
Tip: You don’t always have to write your words down. If you find words in a magazine or newspaper, just cut them out and then you can tape them to your journal, note cards, or sticky notes.
Storing and Stashing Words
If you’re a word-crazy writer, your word collection will grow rapidly. What are you going to do with all those words? Woodridge keeps a few in her purse, a couple on her desk, some special favorites in a cloth bag. I keep envisioning a big, round glass fishbowl filled with colorful cards, each with a choice word scrawled on it in various colors of ink.
You could keep them in a tin, a basket, a bucket. Toss them into a drawer or slip them into an envelope. Tuck them into your journal.
The idea is to make the process fun. I’ve actually never seen the fun in collecting anything other than books and music, but words are a collectible that I can really get behind.
Using Words for Writing Ideas
The human mind is a funny thing. Ever notice how annoying, unsavory, or unwelcome memories pop into your brain at the most inopportune moments? Or how sometimes, when you sit down to write, you suddenly have absolutely nothing to say. We’ve all experienced the frustrating phenomenon of having a word on the “tip of your tongue.” You know the word, you know what it means. You even have a general sense of how it sounds. But you just can’t remember it!
With your word collection, you’ll have plenty of words at your disposal — words that will inspire a writing session or provide the perfect adjective when that other one that you wanted to use can’t get past the tip of your tongue.
When you’re ready to create, just pull out your collection and start building. Grab a handful of words, put them in an order that interests you, maybe add a few new words to the mix (off the top of your head or from beyond the tip of your tongue), and then make something out of them. It doesn’t have to a be a poem or an essay or a story. It’s a collection of words. Your collection.
For more details about Poemcrazy, check out my full review. In the meantime, get out there, start collecting words, and let them provide you with fresh writing ideas. You’re going to need them!
There’s something mysterious and magical about dreams. In the dreamworld, anything is possible. Our deepest desires and greatest fears come to life. Whether they haunt or beguile, our dreams represent the far reaches of our imaginations.
Journals can have similar qualities of mystery and intrigue. If your journal is full of freewrites, doodles, cryptic notes, and random ideas, then it might read like a road map through your imagination, or it may feel like a crash course through your subconscious.
Journal writing is a great tool for dream exploration, and dreams are an excellent source of inspiration for writing ideas.
You can tap into your daydreams or your sleeping dreams as a way to inform and inspire your journal writing:
- Record your dreams so you can better understand them.
- Capture the images in your dreams and turn them into poems and song lyrics.
- Transform monsters from your nightmares into creepy villains for your short stories or novels.
Sleep, Dreams, and Journal Writing Ideas
Dreams have been a subject of great interest in the fields of neurology, psychology, and spirituality, to name a few. Yet we still know relatively little about the nature of dreams. Where do they come from? What do they mean? In one dream, you’re working out problems from your subconscious, and in the next, you’re a character from your favorite TV show. The white rabbit in your dream symbolizes a call to adventure but the white rabbit in your best friend’s dream represents fertility.
According to Wikipedia:
Dreams are a succession of images, sounds or emotions that pass through the mind during sleep. The content and purpose of dreams are not fully understood, though they have been a topic of speculation and interest throughout recorded history. The scientific study of dreams is known as oneirology.
Like I said, we know relatively little about dreams. But that doesn’t mean we can’t put them to good use. Throughout history, dreams have often acted as catalysts for artists, writers, musicians, and inventors. Here are a few famous literary works that were affected or derived from authors’ dreams:
- Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
- Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
- Stephen King’s Misery
Keeping a Dream Journal
There are many ways you can use dreams in your journal writing. The most obvious is to keep a dream journal. Just keep your journal by your bed and jot down your dreams as soon as you wake, before you even get out of bed (otherwise you risk losing or forgetting the dream). It only takes a few minutes.
You can also jot down a few notes and later use your dream as the foundation for a piece of writing. Your dreams can provide you with characters, scenes, imagery, and even plot ideas.
Journal Writing with Daydreams
Let’s dive right in to what Wikipedia has to say about daydreams:
While daydreaming has long been derided as a lazy, non-productive pastime, it is now commonly acknowledged that daydreaming can be constructive in some contexts. There are numerous examples of people in creative or artistic careers, such as composers, novelists and filmmakers, developing new ideas through daydreaming.
The imagination is a bizarre and wondrous thing. Humans have the capacity to conjure up incredible things, but contrary to popular opinion, using one’s imagination requires time and energy. It might look like you’re sitting around doing a whole lot of nothing. But who knows? You could be plotting the next Pulitzer Prize winning novel.
In some ways, daydreams are a better source of inspiration for journal writing than nighttime dreams. Since you’re awake, you can take breaks from your daydreams to jot down notes. You’re also more likely to retain a daydream because you’re awake for it. Many people have a hard time remembering the dreams that they slept through.
Dream Your Next Piece of Writing
Dreams are borne of human consciousness and imagination, which provide an endless stream of writing ideas and inspiration that can inform your journaling sessions. Your journal can function as a repository for all of these visions, and you can revisit your journal as an incredible idea warehouse at any time for any type of writing project.
Below are some links you can follow to learn more about dreams:
- Twelve Famous Dreams
- UC Berkeley has made an entire course on the Psychology of Dreams available online (audio format).
- Do you have a hard time remembering your dreams? Try a few techniques for better dream recall.
Do you ever write down your dreams? Have you ever kept a dream journal? Has a dream (daydream or night-dream) ever provided inspiration for your writing? Is journal writing a habit for you? How often do you write in your journal, and how do you use it with your other writing projects?
A lot of artists struggle with originality. Of course we all want to be original, but is it possible? Is there anything new under the sun?
Some say there are no new stories, just remixed and rehashed versions of stories we’re all familiar with. Often, when someone calls a piece of work original, a close examination reveals its roots in creative works that preceded it.
Most of us writers have had ideas that we shunned because we thought they were too similar to other stories. But just because your story idea is similar to another story, perhaps a famous one, should you give up on it?
Writing ideas come and go. If it’s true that originality is nothing more than putting together old writing ideas in new ways, then instead of giving up on a project that you think has been done before, you can simply make it your own.
A Little Guessing Game
Look at it this way: everything already exists. The ideas, plots, characters — they’re already out there in someone else’s story. Originality isn’t a matter of coming up with something new, it’s a matter of using your imagination to take old concepts and put them together in new ways.
To test this theory, see if you can guess the following famous story:
A young orphan who is being raised by his aunt and uncle receives a mysterious message from a stranger (a non-human character), which leads him on a series of great adventures. Early on, he must receive training to learn skills that are seemingly superhuman. Along the way he befriends loyal helpers, specifically a guy and a gal who end up falling for each other. His adventures lead him to a dark and evil villain who is terrorizing everyone and everything that our hero knows and loves — the same villain who killed his parents.
If you guessed that this synopsis outlines Harry Potter, then you guessed right. But if you guessed that it was Star Wars, you’re also right.
This shows how two stories that are extremely different from one another can share many similarities, including the basic plot structure and character relationships, and it proves that writing ideas will manifest in different ways when executed by two different writers.
As a creative writing exercise, use the synopsis above to write your own story (or outline). It will probably turn out to be unique, even though two of the most famous tales from the last few decades are based on the same ideas.
Recycled Writing Ideas
I’m not advocating for writers to go out and dissect popular stories and then rewrite them with a new twist (although that’s not a bad idea). What I am advocating is seeing writing ideas through instead of casting them aside because they have something in common with a story you’ve read or seen on film or television.
Creative writing is about discovery, imagination, and sharing your thoughts, ideas, and experiences with readers. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had several writing ideas that seemed brilliant at first but later just seemed like a retelling of some old story that everyone already knew.
But lately I’ve been seeing stories in a new light. When I read a great novel or watch a mesmerizing movie, I often realize upon reflection that these works have common elements with lots of other stories. I don’t know if J.K. Rowling ever realized that Harry Potter had so much in common with Luke Skywalker. Whether she did or not, the lesson we can all take away is that she forged ahead and believed in the story that she wanted to tell.
So I’ve come to realize that creativity isn’t always coming up with something new; often, it’s simply finding new connections, perspectives, and combinations of elements. Letting go of your ideals regarding originality and reshaping them with this new understanding will send you soaring into less inhibited and better writing experiences.
Do you ever discard writing ideas that you feel have been done before? Do you find yourself on a constant quest for a story that is new and original? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment.
We look high. We look low. Sometimes it feels like we’ve been looking forever and will keep looking forever more.
Ideas. They’re out there and we know it. But where are they hiding? Why do they keep escaping us? How can we catch them?
Writing ideas are not always easy to come by. Most ideas get tossed aside because they’re not original or interesting enough. So we constantly search for ideas that will capture our imaginations and keep us happily tapping away on our keyboards.
Not every writer is on this quest. Some writers are overwhelmed with inspiration and can’t find enough time to realize every brilliant idea. The rest of us are always on the lookout for exciting writing ideas to add to our inspiration archives.
Writing Ideas are in Your Hands
By simply living on this earth, you’re surrounded by air and water and writing ideas. Isn’t it funny how sometimes we don’t see what’s right under our noses?
Creative writing is a funny thing. If you look too hard for writing ideas, they’ll elude you. But if you go about your business with an open mind, they’ll suddenly start turning up everywhere.
The list below is nothing new. Just some reminders that in your everyday life, there are endless streams of sources from which you can draw inspiration. After you read the list, go about your business and try to forget about coming up with new writing ideas. Let them come to you.
This is Where They’re Hiding
- In your journal or notebook: How often do you go through and look at all the notes and ideas you’ve jotted down?
- In your diary: You may not want to write your memoir or biography, but you might find some bits of dialogue or ideas for character traits buried in your diaries.
- Family: Who do you know better than your own family? They make great models and character launching pads.
- Friends: Everyone has a friend or two who have had some wild experiences. Borrow those experiences and give them to your characters.
- Coworkers: You have just enough exposure to them to write a character sketch, and there’s just enough mystery that your imagination can fill in the blanks.
- Neighbors: Why is their garage light always on? What’s in that enormous shed in their backyard? And who’s that weird looking visitor who’s always stopping by? You watch them and wonder about them. Now make up their story and write it down.
- Nature: You’re on a walk and pick up a pretty leaf or unusual rock and stare at it. Instead of taking it home and putting it on a shelf, start asking yourself some “what if” questions. Like, what if this isn’t a rock, but a planet? Or what if this leaf is sentient?
- Space: Lie under a starry night sky, and how can you not get all filled up with writing ideas? What’s out there? Who’s out there? How far does it go?
- Books and movies: We’ve all read books and seen movies that were clearly spawned from other, more original books and movies. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some great writing ideas in them. What if the character had made a different choice at the beginning of the film? What if the novel had a similar plot but a completely different cast of characters?
- Music and poetry: Don’t ask me how this works or why. Just know that it does. Reading poetry and listening to music relaxes your mind and opens it to countless creative possibilities.
- Writing exercises: That’s what they’re for — generating writing ideas. You can buy books of them, search them out online, or get them right here at Writing Forward.
- Dreams: Before you fall asleep, ask your dreaming self to come up with some new writing ideas. Get some books on dreams (lucid dreaming, for example) and before you know it, your dreams will become your reality and you’ll be writing like mad.
Where Do You Get Your Writing Ideas?
Do you have any favorite places to look for writing ideas? When you’re stuck with plot or character or can’t come up with the last line of your latest poem, how do you resolve your creative block?