Ideas for Capturing Ideas: The Conundrum of What to Write

Published Monday, January 26, 2009 4:44 PM

    Fear not loyal readers, despite my title’s glowing example, alliteration is not my answer to the question Mary posed regarding getting ideas for stories. On January 18th she responded to my blog “On the Writing Side” with this question: “How do you come up with story ideas so easily? That is what I get stuck on.”
    First of all, there are dozens of books out there that have exercises and advice on how to get good ideas for your writing or overcome writers block. Skip ‘em. It’s a scam that preys upon the wanna be writers. Most will offer all the same advice and be over-priced. My sister got me one that was slightly different for Christmas that I liked well enough and have used several times, although I probably wouldn’t have bought it myself. Its called “A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words” and filled with cool photographs and a variety of exercises that accompany each photo calling for you to write 1,000 words. Not bad, if you find it in the library I’d recommend checking it out but you can do the same thing with any book of pictures if you have the imagination to come up with your own prompt based on the photo.
    The best books to find inspiration for writing fiction though are other fiction books. The fact is you can’t be a writer and not an avid reader and as more than one creative writing instructor has told me, there is nothing new under the sun. Don’t worry about stealing. There is a famous quote that  goes “bad writers borrow, good writers steal.” So if you can’t figure out what to writer, read! Or watch a movie or see a play. Anything creative that might rub off on you. And if that fails and you happen to be in the bookstore, I’d recommend the madlibs before a book about writing.
    Kvona made the excellent suggestion of keeping an idea folder which I would like to echo. A journal will accomplish the same thing, however, it won’t just give you a place to keep the ideas you have from getting lost, the act of journaling is creative, just like madlibs are and you may find yourself coming up with story ideas as you write.
    You have to always be on the lookout for what you can use in your fiction. I come up with ideas while I’m driving, in the shower, eating, cooking, reading, playing, you name it, I’ve thought of a story idea while doing it. Don’t be afraid to use personal experiences in your fiction. I don’t care how autobiographical a story is or where the author got the idea. That’s a road full of dangerous and mostly useless supposition that I don’t care to venture down. Stealing ideas from your friend’s lives is also a good idea. Your friends and family are always telling you stories about something weird that happened to them at the supermarket or simply how their day was. These are stories, just not written down and formalized, but you’re the writer! If it’s worth telling and entertained people at party then hop to it and make it your own.
    Besides that, the only big ideas on how to get fresh work and new ideas out of yourself that I got from professors was go to an unfamiliar place to write like the park or a coffee shop or something. I had a poetry teacher that assigned the class to do that so I went up on the roof of where I worked and I think it produced an interesting enough poem.
    Those are my thoughts and I welcome as always comments and suggestions about what helped you or how you fare if you try any of these ideas. Don’t take the madlib suggestion lightly though, especially if you want to write comedy.

Until next time, I’m Eric and I’m an unpublished writer.

by DMI
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