Making Your Own Inspiration: A Writer's Guide

Sunday, March 15, 2015
I used to be convinced that the only way I could put pen to paper –or fingers to keyboard – was if a brilliant idea popped into my head. I had to wait for some kind of (magical? divine?) inspiration.

But after a really long dry spell with no ideas, I had to change my thinking on this. And, after speaking with many aspiring and established writers over the years, I realize I am not the only one to believe in the myth that a writer waits for ideas to come to her.

So, if creative ideas aren’t magically placed into our heads at regular intervals, where do they come from?

Well, I don’t know where they come from or how they form, but I do have some ideas on how to find them, other than the normal writing prompt/timed writing exercises. Here are some of my favorite idea-generating methods, which I have updated since I published a similar blog post in 2010:

  1. Art Journaling: doodle, sketch, smear paint, and/or stamp stamps in a notebook. I keep an art journal in which I play with paint and colors, which sometimes taps into a part of my brain I hadn’t accessed in a while. Sometimes I’ll add stickers or doodles to a regular written journal, too, which can give it new meaning.
  2. Photography: Taking photos forces me to look at common objects or everyday people from a unique perspective. My photography teacher and my creative nonfiction teacher both said the same exact sentence about their respective crafts: “It’s about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.” This has become my personal definition for art and helps me find new twists on common ideas.
  3. Bookstores and Libraries: I like to think I can absorb the creative ideas from the books on the shelves through osmosis. Plus, people-watching in public places like these can generate some wonderful ideas. Or better yet, ask any bookseller (or anyone who works in retail) to tell you stories about their “favorite” customers. I guarantee you they all have at least one story to inspire you.
  4. Yard Sales: I don’t frequent many yard sales myself, but I drive slowly past a lot of them to see if any interesting objects stick out. I wonder about the history of the objects, how they were used, how that crack got there and why is there a speck of paint there?
  5. Conversations: Talking to people, especially people I don't know very well or people I know who have differing points of view than me, often sparks ideas I'd like to explore. A simple exchange at the check-out line at the grocery store is enough to make the brain wheels spin. 

These are a few samples to get you started if you’re having writer’s block and need more than just a simple writing prompt to get you going.

If you’ve developed some unique idea-generating methods, we’d love to hear them! Post a comment and let us know.

By Anne Greenawalt, writer and writing instructor


Margo Dill said...

Yard sales is a great idea! Just another reason to go!

Angela Mackintosh said...

I agree with Margo. I never thought of Yard Sales! Now if I could just get up early enough to find the good stuff. ;) It's interesting to think of where an object came from and the stories it could tell. Great ideas, Anne!

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