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.
I recently got a 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). 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 our tongues.” 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.
I’m only a few pages into the book, but I’m already loving every word in Poemcrazy, so stay tuned for a fuller review of this awesome little book on writing and creativity. In the meantime, get out there and start collecting some words and let them provide you with fresh writing ideas. You’re going to need them!
Over the years, I’ve used various systems for organizing and storing my writing ideas.
Of course, I keep notebooks and journals, which are great for keeping track of my own ideas and not so great for storing ideas I collect out in the world–materials culled from blogs, magazines, websites, and other mediums.
I’ve created folders on my hard drive for storing images I find online. I’ve had manila envelopes for stashing articles and images cut out of magazines and newspapers. Folders, boxes, scrapbooks… it all gets pretty messy and disorganized.
I’ve always wanted a way to keep everything in one medium (preferably electronic) and in one location. Pinterest has made that possible.
Wikipedia describes Pinterest as “a pinboard-style photo-sharing website that allows users to create and manage theme-based image collections such as events, interests, and hobbies. Users can browse other pinboards for images, ‘re-pin’ images to their own pinboards, or ‘like’ photos.”
There’s more to it though, because you can also keep track of links with Pinterest. If you find an image on a website, you can attach the link to the image and pin them both together. So not only can you save images, you can also maintain links back to the source. If you use the Pinterest plugin on your browser, which I highly recommend, you can simplify the pinning process and the link to the source website will automatically attach to the images you pin. This allows Pinterest to function like a visual bookmarking tool.
But you can also upload your own images and scour Pinterest to discover images that you can repin to your boards. I’ve used Pinterest to save everything imaginable, from articles and recipes to writing ideas and inspiration.
Tips for Using Pinterest to Collect, Organize, and Store Writing Ideas
Pinterest has many uses; for example, recipe boards are all the rage. The site is rampant with fashion, home improvement, and various other mainstream and pop culture interests. But writers and other creatives have found innovative ways to use Pinterest. Here are a few tips for using Pinterest to gather, organize, and store your writing ideas:
- Start with writing-related boards: collect writing tips, resources, quotes on writing (for insight and inspiration), or articles on the business of writing. Make separate boards for different writing-related topics or stash them all in a single board.
- Round up your favorite books and authors: if you’re a writer, then you’ve probably been influenced by your favorite books and authors. Be an advocate for other writers by supporting and promoting them on Pinterest.
- Make an inspiration board: you can post images of people, places and things that inspire you.
- Character, plot, and setting boards: I see a lot of these from writers who are developing a work in progress and from authors who are published. Images are a great way to build a story and helpful for when you need to write descriptions.
- Create a prompts board: fill it with images that spark your creativity and make you want to write; this one is ideal for poets and fiction writers alike!
How Are You Using Pinterest?
Writing Forward has a Pinterest page, where you’ll find lots of creative writing ideas. I also recently wrote a post over at The Creative Penn about using Pinterest as a marketing tool for writers and bloggers. I hope you’ll check that out (and while you’re there, be sure to peruse the rest of Joanna’s site; it’s packed with excellent information about the business side of writing).
Do you have a Pinterest account? Do you use it for rounding up writing ideas? Share the link to your boards and if you have any ideas to add about how writers can use Pinterest for inspiration, please do share them in the comments.
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 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, 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. Our young hero is also helped by a number of non-human creatures. 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, take the story above and write your own piece, and it will turn out to be pretty 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.
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 that 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 — sketches and paintings. Like writers, artists fill their journal pages with ideas, and they treasure their journals as sacred creative spaces.
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. 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 imagery 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 of 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.
Do you have any journal writing tips? Got any writing ideas to add or experiences to share? Leave a comment, and keep writing!
We look high. We look low. Sometimes it feels like we’ve been looking forever and will keep on looking forever more.
They are 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
They’re actually all around you. Just by living on this earth, you are 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.
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: Some people don’t like to get too close to their coworkers, and that’s alright. 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 turn 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 can relax your mind and open 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 will be writing like mad.
Where Do You Get Your Writing Ideas?
Do you have any favorite places where you 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?
These days, we writers use computers for most of our writing. But a lot of us admit there’s still something about good old-fashioned pen and paper that really gets creativity flowing.
It’s difficult to brainstorm on a computer or jot down notes and random thoughts, and it’s impossible to doodle in the margins (unless you have some extra fancy equipment). So for journal writing, note-taking, and brainstorming sessions, I like to do it old school.
Over the years, I’ve collected hordes of journals and notebooks. Some of them are pretty and whimsical. Others are simple and functional. I always go through lots of spiral notebooks for business note-taking, but when it comes to journal writing and creative brainstorming, I have learned (the hard way) that I have pretty basic but specific needs that my journal must fulfill.
Journal Writing Needs
What we need from a notebook depends on how we use it. If it gets carried around, dropped, and spilled on, then it needs to be robust. If we like to draw or sketch, then it’s better if the paper is unlined. Some notebooks are throwaways but sometimes we want to create something that lasts.
I use several notebooks that are throwaways. These are primarily for planning, outlining and taking business-related notes. When they’re filled up, I pull out the pages I want to keep, stash them in a binder, and recycle the rest. However, I keep journals for writing poetry, developing ideas, and recording my thoughts. These journals are keepers, not throwaways.
I need a hardbound journal so it can withstand lots of use. It can’t be too big or too small. Something in the 5×8 inch range is just right. The paper must be archival quality because there’s less yellowing and tearing with higher quality paper. Most importantly, the pages have to be unlined. I like to doodle and draw when the mood strikes. Occasionally, I write sideways, upside down, or even in circles (a technique for breaking through writer’s block). They can also handle markers, which I use often in brainstorming.
Sure, I can brainstorm and mind-map right over a line-ruled page, but why should I? Those lines are inhibiting and I need creative freedom.
The best thing about the Watson-Guptill (and other unlined, hardbound sketchbooks) is that if you are an artist and a writer or someone who likes to paste photos or clippings into your journals, they’re perfect because the pages are thick and unlined.
The Watson-Guptill sketchbooks come in several different colors including red, black, green, and purple. I’ve got one in every color! They are 5.5 by 8.5 inches and contain archival-quality blank, unlined paper. You can also get a larger size (about 8×10 inch) and landscape-oriented editions.
I find that when I work in these books, writing ideas flow effortlessly. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the hardcover (it feels so much like a real book). Maybe it’s the potential in all that white space. All I know is that I start feeling creative just by looking at one of them!
What Are Your Favorite Journal Writing Tools?
So there is only one journal for me: the Watson-Guptill Sketchbook. And the more I use these sketchbooks for my journal writing, the more I love them.
I know that writers love to rave about Moleskines. My confession for today is that although I have one, I haven’t used it yet (although I’m looking forward to trying it). When the right project comes along, I’ll break it out and do a little comparative analysis.
What’s your favorite type of notebook for journal writing? Do you find that your writing tools (pens, notebooks, etc.) spark or inhibit the flow of creativity and writing ideas? Do you keep separate notebooks for planning, note-taking, and different types of writing?
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 are 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 anytime 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?
Writer’s block is probably the most frustrating experience any writer faces. You feel creative and you want to create, but you’re just not inspired. You need writing ideas.
It happens to most artists from time to time, this disconnect from the muse. Yet there are creative people who seem to have overcome artistic roadblocks — authors who publish one or two novels a year, filmmakers who produce annual blockbusters, and singers who are on the top-ten list week after week. How do they do it? Have they tapped into a secret, endless stream of inspiration?
How can you tap into that stream?
I always say look to the source. When I see successful artists and innovators who are consistently producing creative work, I find myself wanting to learn more about where they get all their great ideas.
The Keepers of Writing Ideas
It makes sense that as a writer, you would look first to other writers to find out what inspires them. So go ahead and do that. Read biographies of your favorite authors and listen to interviews with writers to see where some of the best ideas came from (there are excellent writer interviews on podcasts such as The Writing Show and Writers on Writing). If you look hard enough (or listen closely enough), these writers will explain where they get their best writing ideas.
But don’t limit yourself to writers. Inspiration is similar across all of the arts. So check in with folks from other disciplines too. And don’t limit yourself to only those artists whose work you enjoy and appreciate. You might find that a movie director whose films you don’t care for has a creativity technique that works perfectly for you.
I recently heard a musician talking about inspiration and he said it was like the music came through him rather than to him. He explained that his source is unknown and outside of himself. Other artists will talk about “the zone,” a state of mind in which concentration and focus are absolute and intense. In this zen-like state, creativity can reach an all-time high. In fact, in this state, creativity is the high.
The Idea Zone
How do artists get into the zone? Some meditate, others use rituals, which might include praying, dancing, or listening to music. There are countless ways to get into the zone. At times, you might find yourself slipping into it by sheer coincidence or by accident.
There does seem to be this space that all creative people share. It’s not a physical place that you can visit, but it’s a place in our minds (though some believe it’s outside of ourselves, and that certainly is worth contemplating).
The point is that by stretching your own boundaries and reaching out to other people who possess creative passion, you can find new ways to keep creativity flowing. The writing community is one you should belong to, as a writer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t engage with other types of creative people. Nothing is more valuable than the exchange of ideas and knowledge, and you never know — the next street musician you meet might have a little bit of wisdom that will open doors to a whole new world of writing ideas for you.
Do you ever exchange creative writing ideas with other writers? What about other artists who are not writers? How often do you think about the source of your creativity? Share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment.