Short stories, flash fiction, novels, and novellas: there are countless stories floating around out there — and those are just the fictional works.
It’s no wonder writers get frustrated trying to come up with a simple concept for a story. One look at the market tells you that everything has been done.
But what makes a story special is your voice and the unique way that you put different elements together. Sure, there might be something reminiscent of Tolkien in your work, but so what? Echos of Lord of the Rings can be found in some of the most beloved stories of the 20th century: Harry Potter and Star Wars, for example.
I’m not saying J.K. Rowling and George Lucas intentionally used elements of Tolkien’s work in their stories. Maybe they did; maybe they didn’t. But I would bet both of them read and appreciated Lord of the Rings. Whether they were conscious or not of its influence on their work doesn’t really matter. Read more
A poem can come out of nowhere and land on the page, fully formed, in just a few minutes. A poem can also be the result of hours (or weeks) of laboring over line breaks, word choices, images, and rhythm.
Poems are funny little things, appearing out of nowhere and disappearing for no apparent reason. Poets have to be diligent: be prepared when a poem arrives and if it doesn’t, go out and chase it down.
There are many ways to write a poem, and not all of them involve sitting at a desk staring at a glaring screen or curled up in a chair with a pen and notebook. Instead of waiting for poems to fall out of the sky, try some of these poetry writing ideas and activities, and go catch them! Read more
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?