Being a writer is about tapping that inner wellspring of creativity, not just now and again, but consistently. Every day I talk to two kinds of people; those who want to become good writers and those who are already good writers but want to become better. At some point even the best of writers asks me “how do you keep coming up with topics to write about?
It’s true that even the best of writers; people who can create vivid and animated characters; people who can write prose that is full of wit and wisdom; sometimes find themselves stumped when it comes to choosing a topic to actually start writing about.
It doesn’t matter if you are a blogger, a screen writer, a feature writer, a poet, a web content writer, a playwright, a short story writer, a novelist, or if you just write for your own personal pleasure; the desire to write is only going to get you so far if you aren’t able to generate ideas to write about.
So where do you begin? How do you generate ideas that will turn into the stories and articles that you need to produce in order to go from wanting to be a writer to actually writing? The following five concepts have all proven to be effective idea generators both for me and for other writers, so why not try one or two – or all of them – and see if we can’t get those creative juices flowing!
Five Creative Writing Idea Generators
#1: The Daily Journal
One of the most important aspects of a writer’s idea arsenal is their personal journal. I’m not talking about a blog. Blogs and journals are two different things. Unfortunately today the concept of blogging has become synonymous with journaling with blogs being touted as “online journals.” And while that is all fine and good, there is, however, a big difference.
When you blog you are (usually) sharing your ideas with people around you and this exerts a certain kind of pressure on you to deliver. When you journal, it is for you alone and you can feel freer to write whatever comes to mind without having to live up to someone else’s expectations.
In order to be practical, your journal should be small enough to carry comfortably in your purse or backpack or even in a coat pocket or briefcase. Use your journal not just to record your daily events, but also to jot down any ideas that you might have during the course of the day. Write it all down – no matter now trivial or mundane. You never know when one of those seemingly ‘trivial’ ideas will generate the next great American novel – or at least your next blog entry!
#2: Stream of Consciousness Writing
Stream of consciousness writing is very effective when you are at your wits end as to what to write about. The short version is that you are letting your inner self out onto the page – no holds barred. Sometimes it is quite amazing what you will find when you let this happen. Simply sit down with a blank piece of paper (or a journal dedicated to stream of consciousness) pick a subject, and start writing about whatever comes into your head.
One way to simplify the topic you will be writing about is to open up any news website and pick the first topic on the headline list. Another topic source is a dictionary or encyclopedia. Simply open the book at random, put your finger down on an entry, then start writing about it. Give yourself 10-15 minutes (timed by setting the alarm on your clock or computer) and simply write, without stopping, until the timer goes off.
With stream of consciousness writing you do not have to stick to your subject. What you write doesn’t even have to make logical sense. Instead, you use the subject as a launch pad for other ideas and thoughts that are probably bottled up behind concerns about your everyday worries and responsibilities. Chances are that when you’ve stopped writing you’ll find that you’ve uncovered at least a half a dozen ideas without even trying.
#3: Using Mundane Activities as Springboards
You may think that mundane activities such as taking a shower, eating breakfast, getting your oil changed, shoveling snow from your driveway or driving your kids to school may not be very inspiring activities, but in truth, you can find as many writing ideas in the everyday and ordinary daily activities as you would in the more glamorous adventures most people associate with generating creativity.
Be on the lookout for ideas even in the most boring and routine things. Usually these ideas will occur as a question in your head. For example, “this toaster pastry tastes like cardboard; I wonder why so many people eat them?” Ta-da! You’ve just uncovered an idea. Take out your journal and write down “why are toaster pastries popular?” in your journal. Did you find yourself staring at that dress in the store window and wondering how long it took it to get from the factory in Indonesia to the sales floor? Congratulations, you may have just discovered a feature article on international supply chain management.
#4: Tap Your Inner Child
One great way to get your creativity flowing is to tap into your inner child. Seriously, sit down with a piece of paper (or your journal) and make a list of those things that you loved to do as a child. Did you like riding your bike? Were you really into dinosaurs? Did you have a tree house? What was your favorite music? What kinds of things did you not like? What foods did you hate eating (and why)? What things did your parents make you do that you absolutely detested? Good, now take a look at your list. You’ve just uncovered an entire world of writing topics.
You can also use childhood games to generate ideas for writing topics. For example, the game “Never have I ever.” This game is a version of spin the bottle where the kid who the bottle points to has to answer the question “Never have I ever _____” and fill in the blank with something that they have never done. This is supposed to be embarrassing, especially for teenagers when they admit that they have never done or tried something. Do this yourself, and then research those things that you have never done and write about them. Gosh but letting your inner child out is great for your creativity!
#5: Create a Book of Inspiration or a Pandora’s Box
Is there a writer or author that you really admire? Perhaps you find yourself drawn to particular photographs or artwork; things that fill you with the desire to be creative and to do your best. Creating a book of inspiration filled with beautiful pictures, a special quotation, short pieces by favorite authors, lyrics to favorite songs and anything else that gets your creative juices flowing can be a great idea generator.
If you are more hands on oriented, you may want to opt for a creativity box. I have one, I call it “Pandora’s Box” and it’s filled with all manner of things that make me smile. New crayons, a Rubik’s cube, brightly colored post cards from all over the world, bits of fabric (silk, denim, corduroy, leather), an assortment of interesting stones, ticket stubs, pins, bumper stickers, a glass doorknob from the bedroom door of the house where I grew up, and much, much more.
Many times when I am stumped for an idea, I simply open my box and start rummaging. Before I know it an idea has usually popped into my head and I find myself writing furiously, determined to get it all down.
Whatever you do, don’t be afraid if you find that one or more of these ideas breaks through a sort of dam in your mind and the ideas just start pouring out. It can be overwhelming at first, but just keep that journal ready! Write everything down as it occurs to you but do not feel as if you have to pursue that particular line of inquiry right then and there. There will be plenty of time to follow up on your fresh influx of writing topics. Soon you may have more ideas than you know what to do with. But that’s a good thing, especially for a writer looking to generate inspiration.