Writers have to churn out content of all kinds, from blog articles and guest posts to magazine pitches and book proposals. You never want the well to run dry, yet you may have faced days when you opened your laptop and stared at the screen without a single idea.
It’s kind of scary. You think, “That’s it. My career is over. I’ve used up the creativity I was allotted in life. Now I need to go flip burgers at Mickey D’s.”
No, no, no. Let me assure you that’s not how it works. The well never needs to run dry.
Thankfully, whether you need ideas for blogging, essays, creative nonfiction, poems, short stories or novels, ideas abound. You can find things to write about all around you, just waiting to be explored, developed, and written into existence.
With a little experimentation, you’re sure to find least a few things to write about next time you open that laptop.
One of my favorite methods for churning out ideas is “Evening Reflection.” I first heard about this a couple of years ago via Mike Pesca of The Gist, when he interviewed professional storyteller Matthew Dicks. The podcast was titled, “Where to Find the Best Stories.” Dicks shares a daily exercise useful for training attentiveness and generating ideas.
At bedtime, he says, think of the one story from the day that has the greatest meaning—something that made that particular day different from all the rest. Take just one to five minutes to write that story down. This refines our lens, he says.
He writes the stories in a spreadsheet to force him to keep it short. He stretches the column about three quarters of the way across the screen and limits himself to that space. Be warned: the people who fail at the exercise and give up tend to write too much. It’s so tempting to write the whole thing out as a story, but in terms of idea-generation, your goal is to simply capture the essence in a few phrases so it can serve as a prompt later.
Do it daily for only five minutes or less, and you’ll have material to last a lifetime. I’ve begun this practice, and it trains me to be attentive as I faithfully reflect on and record the most meaningful event of that day. Not only do I have ideas to write about—I end up with a succinct record of my days.
Ideas from Your Day
Another method is to gather ideas throughout the day.
Let’s say you’re trying to come up with article ideas for your website or to pitch to magazines. Write a list of how-to posts—make some of them ridiculous enough to stimulate your imagination. Write them as headlines that reflect activities in your day. You’d write the headline similar to how you came up with the 50 Headlines I’ve talked about in the past, but you’re letting the day itself and the things you do and the people you meet get you making connections and dreaming up possibilities.
Let’s try a few.
So first thing you do in a day is wake up. As you smack the alarm, you realize you could at that moment start thinking up some relevant titles:
“6 Tasks to Tackle First Thing in the Morning” or “How Early Risers Will Save the Planet” or “Make Your Bed and Remake Your Life.” Others may have written about this, but you could offer a personal angle or interview a friend for content.
You brush your teeth and look down at bristles. Add to your list:
“What Your Toothbrush Wear Pattern Says about Your Personality.”
You look in your drawers and see how neatly you’ve folded your sweaters and you remember you started folding them this way after reading Marie Kondo’s book about tidying up. So you go big—after all, maybe you can interview three people who fit these results?
“How the KonMari Method Saved My Marriage, Got My Kids into Harvard, and Propelled my Book to the Top of the New York Times Bestseller List.”
You fix breakfast and you’re someone who writes about creativity, so you think up:
“Best Breakfasts for Active Artists.”
And so on. As your day continues, the ideas can flow in response to anything you’re doing or seeing, given the kind of writing you want to do, the publications you want to write for, and your audience—or the publication’s readers.
Store Them Safely
Those are just a couple of ideas to get you started. Each of these titles or ideas will serve as a prompt to get you writing your next piece. Don’t lose them—they’re gold!
Write down the ideas in a notebook that you carry with you everywhere. Or write them on notecards you always tote around in your back pocket with a pen—those can go into a filing system to pull from later. Or capture them in a simple note-taking app like Google Keep.
These ideas hold energy because they came from your own life and your own mind. You thought them up, so a few stories must have come to mind, or an article you read.
Store them somewhere, safe and sound. Then keep on living, because every day holds more ideas, and you’ll be churning them out day after day like an idea machine.
- Ep 50: Stop Waiting for Last-Minute Inspiration (introduces the 50-headline challenge)
- Ep 112: My Best Writing Tools to Get More Done at Home and On the Go (ideas for storing ideas)
- Ep 113: An Easy Solution for the Writer with Big Ideas and Little Time (use voice recorder to preserve ideas)
- The Gist: Where to Find the Best Stories
- All podcast episodes
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The podcast is also available Stitcher, and you should be able to search for and find “Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach” in any podcast player.