Where Do You Find Ideas for Writing?

ideas for writing

Where do you get ideas for writing?

I used to actively look for writing ideas. When I wanted to write a story, I would brainstorm and ask questions that I thought would lead to something I wanted to write about.

I still do that, but over the past few years, I’ve also cultivated a more passive approach to my search for writing ideas.

Nowadays, I’m always open to new ideas for writing. Whether I’m chatting with a friend, surfing the web, or watching a movie, I’ve got this little radar in my mind that’s constantly on the lookout for ideas that I can use in my stories.

What I’ve learned is that many of my ideas come from the same sources whether I’m actively looking for them or passively bumping into them. Today, I thought I’d share some of my favorite sources of inspiration and invite you share yours as well.

Ideas for Writing

Whether you’re focused on fiction, poetry, or nonfiction, here are some excellent ways to find ideas for writing:

  • 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 that keep us from getting our writing done, but it’s also a great place to do research and dig around for writing ideas. I love scrolling through 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 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 outlined 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 afterwards 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 when 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 for writing that you’ve gotten from the world around you?

Adventures in Writing The Complete Collection

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.


12 Responses to “Where Do You Find Ideas for Writing?”

  1. The idea for my novel, “Sleeping Dogs”, being published in February, came from a newspaper article about lost nukes but many of my ideas come from my subconscious, dreams, daydreams, all fed of course from my actual experience. I keep a pad on my bedside table in case I wake up with an idea. Some are incomplete but a couple have been gems. Hemingway talks about the value of t he subconscious, he said “Always stop when you are going good and your subconscious will work on it all the time.”

  2. Jodi Woody says:

    Most of my ideas come from dreams, some daydreams when I am traveling, some dreams at night like a full color movie. Several other good books and or movies have inspired me, but I always want to make sure that the storyline is somewhat original. Obviously some storylines are ok to repeat and make your own, after all how many times has “Beauty and the Beast” been rewritten.

    • Old legends and fairy tales are great sources for story ideas. I rarely get ideas from dreams, but I could probably work on that a little. Daydreams are probably my #1 source.

  3. Charlene Tops says:

    Just wanted to tell you that I love your articles! So many things to take in and put into practice. I appreciate all your efforts to help other writers! Keep up the good work!

  4. Charlene Rossell says:

    I use both. But my favorite is a passive approach. A mentor once explained to me that you should always be preparing for your next impromptu speech; in all that you do, see and think. This is the same approach I bring to my creative process. I draw on every experience I’ve ever had or that someone told me about or a story I heard somewhere when I was a little girl. It is likely that most writers do this; it is such a natural thing.

    • I think passive is my favorite approach too. Sometimes, actively trying to develop an idea results in something that feels forced instead of natural. That’s one of the reasons I like taking my time with a fiction project — over the months, I will passively come across lots of ideas that my story needs.

  5. Love this! I’m always on the lookout for new ideas, too (write them down!!), and I never thought of Pinterest as a source. Great idea!

  6. Icy Sedgwick says:

    Mine usually come from those ‘What if’ moments. Like I was watching The Sorceror’s Apprentice with a friend and suddenly said “Wouldn’t it be funny if you replaced the brooms with mummies?” and ended up sketching out the outline for my next novella. I find it hard to sit and look for ideas, but I often get them sparked off by other things – it’s just a question of paying attention enough to notice the spark, and then to write it down before I forget!