12 Places to Find Awesome Writing Ideas

writing ideas

Where to find awesome writing ideas.

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

  1. In your journal or notebook: How often do you go through and look at all the notes and ideas you’ve jotted down?
  2. 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.
  3. Family: Who do you know better than your own family? They make great models and character launching pads.
  4. Friends: Everyone has a friend or two who have had some wild experiences. Borrow those experiences and give them to your characters.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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?
  8. 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?
  9. 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?
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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?

About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.

Comments

53 Responses to “12 Places to Find Awesome Writing Ideas”

  1. Zoe says:

    I was on an overnight bus ride last week, listening to a playlist I made several years ago. Between my exhaustion and the music, I got transported to that year, and I had this strange experience of intensely reliving specific moments and events. The weird thing was that I wasn’t exactly reliving them in the moment — I was narrating them. I had to save up all those thoughts, since I was on a dark bus with no light to write!

    Zoes last blog post..Community Contemplation: Get Paid For Doing What You Love?

    • Zoe, do you have a cell phone? A couple of times, I called myself from my cell phone and left a voicemail with some ideas that I didn’t want to forget. The new smartphones (like the iPhone) have light-up screens and text applications that allow you to just type in your notes. I know it’s high tech, but it sure comes in handy when you’re stuck without paper and/or light.

  2. Martin - Writing Prompts says:

    You really get inspiration from anywhere and everywhere. Just the other day, I was at a nursing home and I watched a woman interact with her great-granddaughter. The interaction was so powerful and involved such a mix of drama and comedy that I immediately took note of it in my head.

    As long as you keep your eyes open and constantly evaluate the writing possibilities of everything you see, you can find stories everywhere!

    • It’s so true, and another trick is learning how to transform what you see in real life and turn it into fiction. One of the struggles I had with an early novel attempt was that the characters were all based on people I knew in real life and it was almost impossible for me to fictionalize them or the scenes and plot. Basically, it would have been a memoir of sorts. So, I scrapped it. But now I have a better idea of how to fictionalize real-world experiences so maybe I’ll revisit that project one day.

      • Martin - Writing Prompts says:

        It’s a good point. It’s important to find inspiration in the things around you and not simply replicate those things. I think it just comes with practice, and time :).

        • Replication is okay if you’re writing a memoir, but for fiction, half the fun is in fictionalizing. Since I have no desire to write a memoir at this point, I’m always looking for ways to twist things into fiction.

  3. Iain Broome says:

    Public transport always does it for me, even more so now I’ve moved to the country and tend to encounter the same people on the bus at the same time etc etc. It’s also a time when you’re forced to stop and think because you can’t do anything else (I get car and bus sick if I try and read). Your mind can wander wherever it likes.

    • I haven’t had much opportunity to take public transportation but the few times I have, I definitely have found myself surrounded by interesting and inspiring characters. Airports are great for this.

  4. Writer Dad says:

    I love this list, Melissa. I’m a big believer in this – our well can never run dry. The very act of being alive is enough to feed our brain with brand new thought. The entire list works for me, but I love the stuff that pops into my head just as I’m falling to sleep. Definitely gold to be found there.

    • Thanks Writer Dad. I get ideas sometimes while I’m trying to fall asleep too, but where they really seem to flourish is in the shower. Water must inspire me!

  5. Cath Lawson says:

    Hi Melissa – These are great tips. I love the idea of having a character take a different direction, at the beginning of a movie you’ve watched.

    I get ideas from lots of places. Sometimes it can be from expanding on a simple story in a newspaper or magazine. Or it can be sparked from a comment someone has made. I like talking to strangers when I’m out and about and it’s amazing how many ideas you can pick up, just from things they tell you.

    The basic idea for the novel I’m writing now came from reading a true life story on the Internet and beginning to wonder what it would feel like to be in that situation.

    • Cath, newspapers and magazines are awesome sources for writing ideas. I think I wrote a post about that way back when this blog first started. It’s true, there are characters, stories, and scenes all around us, if only we’d bother to look.

  6. J.D. Meier says:

    Beautiful tickler list of ideas.

    Books and movies seem to flow the most for me, though a good starry night is great fodder for the mind.

    J.D. Meiers last blog post..Top 5 Characteristics of Leaders

  7. Good topic, i liked the coverage too ;)
    My best sources of insights for blogging are my family and my customers. It is because i care about them the most. When I hit a “situation” i try to find a solution based on best practices. When solved I am eager to share it with the world as I believe many can benefit from it. So in short – my best source of insights for blogging (writing?) is problems/”situations” I cope. I post about 10 posts weekly on all of my blogs in total – i have plenty problems to be solved HAHAHA :)

    Alik Levin | PracticeThis.coms last blog post..9 Downturn Lessons Toyota Can Teach A Consultant

  8. Marelisa says:

    Hi Melissa: I agree with your list. Ideas truly are everywhere. Sometimes if you’ll stop what you’re doing and close your eyes for awhile you’ll get an idea out of thin air :-)

  9. WereBear says:

    Ideas are everywhere. I especially enjoy stories of how a single image can trigger an entire novel. The most recent case of this was the late Christy Jones, who was inspired to write a sprawling multi-generational novel by a picture of an old woman, lifting her skirts to jump over a ditch.

    This suggests that we might not get ideas so much as we uncover them.

    WereBears last blog post..When Coping Skills Go Wrong

    • WereBear, That’s interesting; I hadn’t heard about Christy Jones’ novel inspiration. I guess a Google image search would be another way to get writing ideas.

  10. Kelvin Kao says:

    I have yet to really write anything based on my dreams, but I do have interesting dreams sometimes. In fact, sometimes I snooze my alarm not because I’m sleepy, but because the dream is so interesting and I want to know what happens next. I have written down some dreams though, if my friends happen to appear in them (usually doing something strange) and I know they will be amused when I send the story to them.

    Kelvin Kaos last blog post..Visually Stunning Taiwanese Puppet Video

  11. jan_geronimo says:

    You’re right – family and friends and even neighbors. But lately I have listening in on twitter conversations. I tried tuning out the drone of internet marketers and instead zeroing in on random conversations. Even a random tweet can be very inspiring – you know the quiet but noticeable undertone of desperation in a tweet, sometimes malice passed around like so much wit, and of course the direct conversations that simply spur you to pause a moment and scramble to type it up in Word or notepad. You have to or you risk losing it.

    The same can be said of the other social media networks, but to me nothing beats Twitter for its sheer energy and sense of immediacy.

    If that fails, you can always go out and take a long walk – the big artillery of creative inspiration. Makes you more receptive to ideas. Works every time.

    jan_geronimos last blog post..Top Foolproof Writing Tip

    • I could see where listening in on some Twitter conversations would inspire writing ideas. That’s a clever way to gain inspiration! For my next article on writing ideas, I’ll have to cover sources for online inspiration ;) though you’re right – nothing beats a long walk.

      • Bill Womack says:

        I’ve had some of my best story ideas while walking. It seems to be a combination of receiving a dose of outside stimulation from the world around me, and distracting my senses so that something interesting can bubble forward from my subconscious. Whatever the reason, I like the outcome.

  12. Trisha says:

    What an inspirational jumpstart! The key is to just start writing – and for many that’s the hardest step. I has to become a daily habit, as routine as the morning cup of coffee. Life is so full of inspiration – one just has to learn to be in the moment and capture the emotions. Looking forward to more of your writing!

  13. Andrew says:

    Melisa,

    I keep a ‘creative ideas file’ on my computer to capture these kinds of things. Trouble is, I so rarely look at this file.

    Most of my ideas come from newspapers and magazines. This is probably because most of my blog writing is focused around providing my opinion on a range of current issues with respect to business ethics, and I find that keeping abreast of newspapers and magazines as much as I possibly can helps me to expand the range of topics upon which I can draw to produce what I hope is a reasonably interesting range of discussions.

    Andrews last blog post..‘Do not call’ means don’t call

    • Hi Andres, Newspapers and magazines are great sources for inspiration for any type of writing, even fiction and poetry. That’s a smart place to look for ideas.

  14. Karen Swim says:

    Hi Melissa, my favorite place for writing ideas is nature. Nature is an unending source of wonder and inspiration. However, I find that when I stop to keep my mind open, ideas are everywhere, in every breath, motion and mundane act. I think we just have to turn our receivers on to catch the ideas that are all around us daily.

    • Nature is my favorite place to gather writing ideas too, and I love poems about nature when they’re done just right, but it’s true – ideas are everywhere.

  15. Bill Womack says:

    At a writing conference several years ago, an agent said that he thought any story theme should be easy to summarize in a single sentence. I’ve yet to master that for either of my novels, but sometimes I work it in reverse — getting the summary first, and letting a story idea flow from that. My current favorite source is the headlines over advice columns in the newspaper. They’re all about laying out human conflict and drama in a brief, memorable way. Tailor-made for writers!

    • Ah, newspapers again. This is good. When I first started this blog, I did a writing exercise about using the news for inspiration, and I think it’s an ideal source. I love the idea of using those advice columns’ headlines. Very clever!

  16. Sal says:

    Wow, these are great! My favorite ways to garner ideas for my writing are:
    1. I keep a daily journal of writing prompts, using the book, “A Writer’s Book of Days” by Judy Reeves. It gets the muse working, and though most of the daily entries end up being unusable, some are worthy of future stories/articles/columns.
    2. I study the wild critters. We live in the woods and happily co-exist with a host of deer, bears, foxes, raccoons, wolves, birds, etc. As I study them, I receive many insights into human nature that I use in my weekly columns.
    3. Smells do it for me. Mm-mm-mm! The faintest aroma of something will evoke a buried memory worthy of writing.
    4. Words also trigger stories and columns. I’m forever alert to hearing an idea or word to use in my weekly devotional columns, and have been known to tell pastors: “I rate sermons by how many ideas I receive for my columns.”

    • Sal, you have a lot of great sources for inspiration. I use some of these too, though I can’t say a smell has ever triggered a writing project for me. I think that’s cool though!

  17. Eva G. says:

    Delightful list! I live in Detroit, so not much public transit time for me, but it would be great to have that time to just dedicate to writing (or thinking about writing :)

    Eva G.s last blog post..You betcha’.

    • Yes, I work from home so no public transport for me either, but I hear it’s a fantastic way to get a little extra writing done each day – and an interesting source of inspiration.

  18. Nancy says:

    I know this is self-promoting:) But, I have an image writing prompt where I feature an image per day to inspire writing. At the moment, it is not attracting many writers, so I hope that someone might find it helpful.

    If you do, please let me know.

    Thank you!

    Nancy

    Nancys last blog post..Image Prompt: The Young Gardener

  19. Becs says:

    I’ve had ideas pop into my head while driving home from work. A few months back, while racing a migraine home to see who would get there first, I wondered what else could potentially be behind the migraine or the race home (in a Stephen King/Jekyll & Hyde kind of way) and what might happen if I didn’t make it. It’s those ‘what if’ questions for me.

    I’m also inspired by music. Certain pieces of music or bits of lyrics speak to me and evoke images and scenes in my head.

    The hard part is trying to get it all out of my head and onto paper in a format that will be interesting to read…

    • I’m right there with you. If I had a dollar for every idea that popped into my head while I was in the car or shower . . . And getting it all on paper is definitely the hard part. I find that keeping lots of notes helps immensely :)

  20. kcclamb says:

    I’m so glad you are giving simple ideas instead of the complex stuff I find all over the internet. I get my best plots and characters by either becoming them while I’m writing or by having them be me. Writing in present tense and in first person helps me a lot, because then I’m there. I have to ask myself “What would I do or say? How would I react?”
    I also got to amazing bk ideas from 1 children’s movie. It is a little strange trying to write both at once, haha, but the one is with a co-author and the other is just all by my lonesome. I will say this about co-authoring: you never realize how much work goes into a book until you have to plan it all out with another person for an agreement! haha, well, that’s life, I suppose. :^)

    BTW, any suggestions on how to write in either past tense OR in third person? I can never seem to stay in either of them. I always circle back around to 1st person, present tense…

    • I am writing a story now in present tense third person. I have the opposite problem: I keep slipping into past tense. I think it’s because most books are written in third person past tense, so my mind reverts to what is familiar. The best advice I have is to revise carefully and check for areas where you slipped into the wrong point of view or tense. I would probably do one revision focusing on that alone. Good luck to you!

  21. Deborah Christensen says:

    I got an idea for a novel when I was riding the train to Colorado and I saw a large house. I started imagining what secrets that house held. My first (and most reprinted) article came from my experiences with my niece and nephews. I love watching Project Runway. The way they translate various inspirations into designs inspires me to see the world around me in a new way.

    My blog is all about gleaning writing ideas from everyday life and I’m going to post a link to this post for my followers.

    Thanks so much.

    Deborah

  22. Sarah says:

    I get a lot of my inspiration from scientific discoveries, especially animals and space. What would it feel like to fall into a black hole? Why on earth would somebody want to clone a dinosaur? How would a massive meteor strike affect life today? It’s awesome to think of how much humans have yet to discover! We will never fully understand the universe, so we can never run out of ideas.

  23. Nicci Hartland says:

    A lot of my ideas latley have come from listening to NPR, they always seem to have something interesting to say. Normally though I am driving and have to try to remember the idea before it poofs away. Other times I could just be sitting around and something suddenly pops in my head. I sometimes think it’s funny that a completly random idea will hit at the strangest of times.

    • I had an idea while driving the other night and I needed to remember it for at least fifteen minutes. Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem but in this case, it was several lines of poetry that I did not want to forget and I had a lot on my mind. When I got to stoplight, I took out my phone and made a voice recording using an app called iTalk. Worked like a charm! NPR is great!

  24. The Vancouver Art Gallery has invited 12 authors to sit in the lobby and write a live account of whatever it is they see (or imagine they see) as the day unfolds and different people visit the gallery. I was listening to one of the authors being interviewed, and she says that for three hours after she gets home, the ideas are still flowing–what *was* that couple discussing, was that a bomb or a hatchet in that man’s briefcase?

    Truly, the ideas are everywhere around us. Our job is to watch and wait for them to coalesce into story. And to always carry a pen and paper or a cellphone!

    • People-watching is definitely a great way to get writing ideas. I find that cultivating observation skills is immensely helpful because then, you don’t have to go out and sit for hours waiting for interesting people to appear. Instead, you’ve trained yourself to always be alert for interesting people, sights, and sounds. However, I’ve had some great people-watching sessions in airports (although it’s been a while).

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