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?