Finding Inspiration - Part Four

Saturday, May 17, 2008
by LuAnn Schindler

Need ideas? Here are four additional ways to generate ideas.

Look at the covers of popular magazines, and it appears that "lists" are popular: the top 10 gifts for Mother's Day, 15 ways to spice up your life, 5 tips for packing for summer vacation. Think of an area you have experience with and create a list of tips. As a former classroom teacher, I put together a list of five tips to keep children actively learning during the summer and sold it to a website.

Opinions are a good place to generate articles, letters to editors, or op-eds. They even make great fodder for letters to companies - either praising or offering advice. I've written a fair share of op-eds and letters to the editor. But I want you to consider letters to companies for a moment. Two years ago, I wrote a letter to the company that made my favorite spaghetti sauce and explained why I preferred it to the competition. I wasn't expecting anything in return; I just wanted to share why I liked their sauces. Imagine my surprise when I received a one year's supply of coupons for this product. At $2.69 a jar, that resulted in a savings of $139.88. One more example involves a soft drink company. When I worked in corporate America, the product I preferred was sold out for three weeks from the only vending machine in our building. I sent a letter to the company asking why the machine hadn't been stocked. Yup, 52 coupons for a 20-ounce soda = $56.68.

Talk to friends who write. Talk to friends who don't write. When I'm stuck, I talk to my parents, both former classroom veterans, who dabble in writing. No matter what path our conversation takes, I'm always inspired with a new idea. They have a beautiful but spoiled Snowshoe Siamese named Nash. My parents rescued him from an animal shelter they volunteer at. I wrote a story about Nash and the shelter and submitted it to an animal magazine that runs this type of monthly feature.

When I was taught, one of my favorite writing prompts was to have students find a quote and then write about it. Quotes are a good place to generate ideas, especially if you can put a twist on a well-known quote. I recently read this statement: "The more you love music, the more music you hate." I wrote a personal essay about my appreciation of music but came to the realization that as I've grown older (or maybe wiser), I appreciate small snippets of silence since they provide restful relaxation. Quote sites abound online or pick up a quote of the day calendar.

Read, read, read. Most importantly, read something new. It is 60 miles from my house to the closest bookstore, so when I do get the chance to stop there, I always peruse the magazine racks and pick up one or two I've never read before. With the comfy chairs available there, in addition to a wide selection or flavored teas and cappuccinos, it is easy to take some time to look at a new market. Even the local library has an amazing selection of magazines that delight all age groups. I find time to stop there, too.


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