More on . . . Where do you get your ideas?

When authors speak to classrooms and other groups, the idea question is usually one of the first ones. It’s a good question, because as a beginner, I know I always had trouble deciding exactly what to write about.

I know one very talented writer who has a handful of great ideas, but in the many years I’ve known her, she has never been able to decide which one to work on. For fifteen years, NONE of her projects have ever been completed. Actually, they’ve never been started! She’s only read a bit of research here and there, taken a few notes. The rest of the time she’s spent pondering where she should spend her time.

Don’t let this be you!

How can you decide which project YOU should write?
1. Trust your instinct. Do you feel excited about it? Make sure you try it out awhile first. Is it your passion? Do you care about it? If it niggles at your mind and won’t let you go, this is a sign it’s a keeper.
2. Look to serendipity. Have you ever experienced coincidences with your ideas, research, or creativity that you just can’t explain? Sometimes I think the universe WANTS us to write certain projects. If everything is sliding nicely into place for you to write a story about X, then go for it!
3. If you are facing a few roadblocks but still want to write it, don’t worry. You can either keep going, or if your energy isn’t there now, put it aside and revisit the idea later.
4. Is the timing right for this idea? Do you have enough time for this particular story/book/project?
5. “I don’t have time to write.” Hey. We ALL are busy people. Just set aside a certain amount of time. Turn off the phone. Set a timer if that will help you. Write! It’s like exercise. The more you do it, the easier it is to do well and the more you do it, the less it seems like work. Pretty soon you’ll be writing more and more without realizing how fast the time flies by!

Where to get ideas:
1. Your passions. Make a list of your passions/interests. If you can’t think of them right away, don’t worry. Look around your room or your office. What kind of books are around you? Pictures? Decorations? This might tell you more about yourself. You’d be surprised at how many people don’t know themselves.
2. Current events. I’ve written a lot of humor and opinion columns based on what was happening in the news and in my community. Don’t ignore the old dinosaur called the newspaper. (ok – – or online news too, I suppose . . .)
3. Pay attention. Bits of dialogue around you might begin a story, provide conflict to one you already have, or spark another idea.
4. Nostalgia. Use your own life memories. Go through scrapbooks, diaries and photo albums to help your remember your life. Recreate as many sensory details as you can.
5. Writing exercise books are helpful. I use the exercises and apply them to specific scenes and characters in the novel I’m working on at the moment.
6. Pictures in magazines often inspire characters, settings, and themes for stories.
7. Open any book, dictionary or encyclopedia to a random page. There is a subject for you!
8. Join a writing group. They will suggest more ideas for you and will inspire you to keep writing!
9. Read, read, read! Read what you want to write. If I haven’t written fiction in awhile, it’s because I’ve been reading nonfiction. Once I go back to reading novels, then I’m inspired to write them. Make sense?
10. Keep paper with you all the time. Then you’ll never miss those ideas that hit you when you least expect it.

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One Response to “More on . . . Where do you get your ideas?”

  1. Beverly Lauderdale Says:

    Liz,
    You’ve done a great job of listing most of the sources for ideas, at least the sources that I use. However, I’m currently reading a book of essays, “This I Believe,” and am intrigued by the editors’ invitation to write on this topic and limit the essay to 500 words. This, of course, is similar to writing a story or article for a contest that is limited by topic, title, or lead sentence. Occasionally when I’m idea-dead, I find such an outside stimulus to be helpful.

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