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. Read more
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. Read more
Writing a novel is no small task. In fact, it’s a momentous task. Some writers spend years just eking out a first draft, followed by years of revisions. And that’s before they even think about the grueling publishing process.
In other words, you’re going to spend a lot of time with your novel. So you better love it. No, wait–loving it is not enough. You have to be in love with it. You have to be obsessed with it.
And obsessions cannot be forced. It’s normal to lose interest when you’re on your tenth revision, but if you’re losing interest in your plot or characters while writing your first or second draft, the problem may not be you or your novel. The problem may be that you tried to commit to something you didn’t love. That’s never a good idea.
For many writers, the trick to sticking with a novel is actually quite simple: find an idea that grips you. Read more
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. Read more
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. Read more
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? 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.
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. Read more
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?
Creative people are always looking for inspiration and writers are certainly 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 of 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.
Characters and People
The news is full of colorful characters, from the lowliest criminal to the most glamorous business executive. Local heroes, big-time politicians, sports stars, and pop culture celebrities all mingle together in the pages of your daily rag. Be sure to check the society pages and the obituaries and let these inspire your character creations. If you’re looking for really far out figures, try one of the tabloids or scandal sheets. You can turn these people into characters in your fiction writing or you can zero in on them as real individuals and write a piece of nonfiction–an essay, an article, or even a biography.
I’m one of those writers who can whip up a character in no time, but coming up with a plot wreaks havoc on my creativity. Newspapers are filled with all kinds of interesting plots and writing ideas for fiction. Look to small town papers for quaint stories that are usually overlooked by mainstream media. Large, urban papers will carry national interest bits. And many periodicals off the beaten path contain tales of the unusual, paranormal, and fantastical, which can be pretty useful for writers of science fiction and fantasy.
The newspapers are full of quotes, and where there are none, you can surely make up your own. Since dialogue is driven by character and plot, you can simply delve into the goings-on of any news story and start imagining what these people would say to one another.
Setting and Imagery
Don’t forget about the photos and other images! You can turn to a magazine if it’s a locale you’re seeking. National Geographic or any travel magazine will give you a sense of setting and compelling imagery that can provoke a poem. You’ll pick up interesting phrases like “down by the levee,” or “at the railroad junction,” which you may have not otherwise considered.
Are you writing a period piece? The local library is stocked with archives of old papers and other publications that you can review and photocopy. Not only will you find creative writing ideas for character, plot, and setting, you’ll also pick up lingo and other period details.
Creative Writing Ideas Are All Over the News
When you want to sit down and write, don’t wait for inspiration to strike. Make it happen. The news is jam-packed with creative writing ideas, and all you need to do is season it with a little imagination and your next piece will be simmering in no time.
Here are a few final tips:
- Get writing ideas from the news online, in print, or on TV
- Check magazines and periodicals
- Watch documentaries
Where do you turn for creative writing ideas? Share your tips in the comments.
And keep writing!
I used to actively look for writing ideas. When I wanted to write a story, I would search my mind, brainstorm, and ask questions that I thought would lead to something I wanted to write about.
I still do all that, but over the past few years, I’ve also cultivated a more passive approach to my search for writing ideas.
Nowadays, I am 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.
Ideas for Writing
These are good sources of inspiration whether you’re writing fiction, poetry, or nonfiction and whether you’re actively or passively seeking ideas for writing stories:
- Old books, movies, and TV shows: More often than not, I find something that I thought was my own original idea when I’m reading or watching movies or television. But sometimes, I’ll come across a fresh element that would work in one of my stories. Sometimes it’s a simple plot device or storytelling technique. Other times, it’s a setting, a name, or some detail, like an article of clothing.
- Pinterest (and other social media sites): The Internet is a dangerous place for writers, with all its temptations and distractions, but it’s also a great place to do research and dig around for writing ideas. I love scrolling through images on Pinterest and often come across images that could prompt entire stories.
- The news: Most of what I gather from the news doesn’t inspire a story specifically but some of what I see happening in the world makes its way into my story ideas as themes or backdrops. I think this adds realism to a story’s setting. Sometimes, reading the news helps me understand the way the world works a little better, and that’s always good for adding realism to a piece of fiction, especially when the government or military is involved, which is the case with the novel I’m working on now. My most recent treasure from the news was the name of my protagonist, which is what incited an entire novel.
- Technology: In 2005, I got a new cell phone, an iPod, and a digital camera. I remember staring at these three devices and thinking that, as miraculous as they were, they should really be encompassed in a single device. I sketched a story idea about it (which I never wrote). Just three years later, I bought my first iPhone. Now, I stare at it, wondering what this technology will look like in ten, twenty, a hundred years, and I get tons of ideas for writing. I also follow several science and technology blogs for the express purpose of getting ideas for writing in the science fiction genre. Lots of what I’ve seen there appears in my work in progress.
- The people around me: With people, I usually pick up small details, like the way someone walks, a facial expression, an article of clothing, or a figure of speech. And then there’s my niece, who’s always inventing words, names, and characters. One day, she and I made up a character and a week later, I’d written a children’s book.
Sometimes, I pick up ideas from these sources without even realizing it. One night, I watched a movie with a treacherous high-ranking military officer as the antagonist. A few weeks later, a treacherous high-ranking officer in the military appeared in a story I was writing. It wasn’t until a few days later that I realized where I’d gotten the idea. Not that it’s original–such characters appear in lots of stories.
Where Do You Get Ideas For Writing?
Do you use an active or passive approach to searching for writing ideas? Both? Do you keep an idea notebook? Have you ever nicked an idea from a book, movie, or TV show without realizing it? What are some of the best ideas you’ve gotten from the world around you?
Doesn’t it seem like the best writing ideas come at the most inconvenient times?
It happens when you’re driving, in the shower, or eating dinner at a restaurant. Unfortunately, you’re not sitting in front of your computer and even if you were, you don’t always have time to stop what you’re doing to make notes about your latest writing ideas.
But nobody wants to lose a truly great writing idea either – so how do we save them before we forget them?
If your idea light bulb likes to shine while your hands are tied or when you’re away from your usual writing tools, then I have some tips to help you make sure you don’t lose your most creative writing ideas.
Five Tips That Will Prevent You from Losing Your Best Writing Ideas
- Mini-Notebooks: They’re cheap and small enough to stash everywhere: on your nightstand, in your purse, pocket, car, or desk drawer at work. Keep a pen or pencil with each one. Just make sure you don’t jot anything down while driving. It only takes a couple of minutes to pull over, write down your notes, and be back on your way.
- Voice Recorder: Keeping a voice recorder on you at all times is another great way to make sure that no matter where you are (or what you’re doing), you have a way to record your writing ideas. Perfect for the car, a recorder is an ideal way to get a little writing done or capture your most brilliant thoughts. Writers have used mini-cassette recorders for years, but now digital recorders are plentiful and affordable. Plus, many smart phones and mp3 players now come with voice recording capabilities. Speaking of cell phones…
- Voice mail: If you’re stuck somewhere without a notebook, then just give yourself a call. As long as you have access to a phone, you can leave yourself a voicemail and make sure that your best writing ideas don’t disappear among the millions of thoughts you’re having during the day. Plus, you can call your mobile phone, home phone, or work phone!
- Bulletin Boards, Baskets, and Boxes: If you’re one of those people who jots down notes on scrap paper and napkins, this is the perfect way to collect your thoughts. By setting aside a bulletin board, basket, box, or other container, you will have a place to deposit your scraps and scribbles. This will help you stay organized and you’ll always know where to look when you’re trying to dig up one of your latest, greatest writing ideas.
- Just a Pen: As long as we’re talking about napkins and notes, keep in mind that most of the time a pen is all you really need. There are materials to write on just about everywhere and in a pinch, even a square of toilet paper will do. If you have your trusty pen on your person, you probably won’t have to look too long or far for something to write on. You might want to go with a Sharpie though; it will open up a whole new world of writing surfaces, like thick cardboard boxes, but hey — stay away from bathroom walls!
Most writers have lost dozens if not hundreds of writing ideas just because they had a stroke of genius at a most inopportune time. But that doesn’t have to happen to you. As long as you’re prepared at all times, your writing ideas will stay safe and sound!
Got any tips to add for keeping track of your writing ideas? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
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 myriad 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.
Tools for Capturing Ideas in Writing
I’ve experimented with most of these tools and found that I gravitate toward a tool depending on the nature of the project. I like to keep fiction ideas in a notebook but I prefer index cards for nonfiction.
You might want to use two or three tools to keep things simple or maybe you work better with a wider range of tools, which allow you to capture different types of ideas. For example, an app like Evernote allows you to create lists, text documents, and grab images from the web whereas index cards allow you to capture ideas that you can later rearrange into a logical order.
You probably already use some of these tools. Consider experimenting with the ones you haven’t used to see if they suit your creative style:
- Brainstorming: you can brainstorm on paper or on a computer. Brainstorming is not for capturing random ideas–it’s a session in which you generate as many ideas as possible and record them so you can later refine them. Literature and Latte (the makers of the wildly popular writing software, Scrivener) recently produced a brainstorming app called Scapple, which is available for the Mac. I’ve already started using Scapple and I love it!
- Mind mapping: like brainstorming, mind mapping is done in a session. It’s similar to brainstorming except ideas are captured using a specific visual method in which there’s a central idea and clusters of closely related ideas within the greater topic. Wikipedia has an article on mind mapping, which includes visual examples.
- Index cards: simple and practical for capturing ideas either randomly or in a session, index cards are compact and easy to carry around. They also allow you to rearrange ideas and group them in stacks, which is ideal for putting scenes or concepts in chronological or logical order. They’re also great for summarizing scenes and chapters.
- Sticky notes: I prefer index cards to sticky notes because I can stack and store them, but sticky notes work well with brainstorming, mind mapping, and capturing random ideas, which you can stick to your desk, wall, or bulletin board for later use. They’re perfect for jotting down notes that you later want to stick into a notebook (without having to transcribe from one tool to another). If you use a Mac, it comes with an app called Stickies, which allows you to create electronic sticky notes for your desktop.
- Journal or notebook: for me, nothing beats a trusty notebook. They come in various shapes and sizes and you can get different notebooks for different projects or use a single notebook just for recording ideas. Many writers feel that the tactile nature of working with a pen and notebook enhances creativity. It also allows for drawing, doodling, and creating charts or lists in an organic fashion.
- Evernote: I’ve had Evernote for years but only recently started using it and I love it! Evernote allows you to create text, audio, and video files, plus you can clip content directly from the web. You install Evernote on your computer and smart devices and here’s where it gets awesome: Evernote automatically syncs to the cloud. So if you audio record an idea on your smart phone, you can access it later from your computer, where it’s easier to move notes to bigger projects in Word or Scrivener. The app is available for Mac or PC and every device imaginable, and it’s free.
- Scrivener: In word processing software, Scrivener is quickly becoming the new industry standard for authors. Scrivener is to Microsoft Word what Microsoft Word was to the typewriter–a major improvement. It would take forever to list all the perks and benefits of using Scrivener, but I’ll mention a couple of highlights, including keeping chapters, images, notes, outlines, and research in a single file instead of having to manage various documents. Scrivener also has output to .mobi and .epub file types, which is awesome for self publishers. Plus, you have nothing to lose since there’s a 30-day free trial. Scrivener is available for Mac and Windows and they have an iPad app in the works.
- A Novel Idea: this is an app I recently discovered, so I’m still experimenting with it but basically, it is a text tool that includes guides to help you develop ideas. For example, you can create a character, and the app includes fields for name, age, gender, height, build, and more. It’s basically a collection of electronic worksheets. The categories inclue novels, scenes, characters, locations, and ideas. A Novel Idea is free (there’s also a paid, ad-free version) for iPhone and iPad.
- Audio recordings and dictation: several times, I’ve found myself full of great ideas while driving. I used to call myself and leave a voice mail but now I use an audio recording app called iTalk Recorder. It’s available for the iPhone and iPad, but you can find voice recording apps for any device and of course, your computer probably has recording capabilities built right in. For example, on my Mac, I just hit the “fn” key twice from within most programs, and it will take dictation.
How Do You Capture and Organize Your Writing Ideas?
Do you use carefully selected tools to capture your ideas in writing or do you deal with each idea as it comes? Have you developed a workable system for organizing your writing ideas? Which is your favorite method or tool? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing.