5 Ways to Find New Writing Ideas

Sunday, January 07, 2018
photo credit: Kevin Johnston printing via photopin (license)

Writing ideas are funny things. Sometimes they originate from somewhere specific - a moment you witnessed, a personal life experience, a weird remark you overheard on the bus - and sometimes it's origin is vague. Sometimes an idea will saunter in from the back door and present itself as an image in your mind that won't let you ignore it. And then the dry spell happens. I've had so many instances in my life that my usual creative well was dry and I had to draw from outside sources to generate a new writing idea so I can scratch the creative itch.  But where can we get these ideas? Here's a few places I can recommend to get these brand new ideas.

1) Old newspapers.

While I don't recommend hoarding old newspapers (from my experience I find that spiders and bugs like loose paper), there are ways to find old newspapers online. It can be a vague journey, though, because sometimes a newspaper from 1982 can inspire you and sometimes it doesn't. However, there are a few gems out there that make it worth keeping. Just consider this newspaper below:

The headline above is from the "Evening Independent" from Feb 5, 1940.

I found this once and as I read the story further, it stayed with me. Now, it sits in the back of my mind waiting to be connected to a plot line. And these types of searches in old newspapers inspire me so much. So when you go to the Google Archive search area, if you aren't sure where to start, just start searching words like "mystery" or "strange" or "unexplained" and then you will begin to uncover the inspiring stories from the past.

2) Unsolved Mysteries

Despite what this suggests, I promise I'm not much of a mystery writer. However, I'm a huge fan of the show Unsolved Mysteries (originally hosted by Robert Stack!) and there is a Reddit forum, inspired by the series, and created purely for unsolved mysteries. It's a fascinating place to browse and if you are ever stumped for a story, solve a mystery being discussed in this forum and turn it into a story of your own.

3) Create a story through music.

I stumbled across this idea recently when I had a song inspire an idea and then another song I heard after seemed to connect to that very same idea (even though they were two completely different songs!). The idea here is to take a favorite song of yours and try to link it up with another song that is completely different.

For example, just take the song "Chandelier by Sia" (that I love to shamelessly sing at the top of my lungs). When you listen to the lyrics, you realize the song is about someone that wants to escape from reality. What you do is link that song up with something that is entirely different. Link it up to Brenda Lee's, "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." What if these two songs featured the same character? Thinking about this can take you on a very unique journey. How can the same character relate to both songs? What can that story say?

4) Write about a minor character from another story.

Have you ever had a character you liked who basically lived as an extra in the setting of your story and you couldn't figure out how to make them a star? We all have those characters, I think. And if you are stumped for ideas, try to go back to that character and write from their perspective. Not everything in this character's life revolved around the main character of that previous story. What else can be happening within this setting or this character's life? Let that lead you to your next idea.

5) Play the "what next" game.

Whenever I'm stumped for what to write, but I do want to write, I like to imagine a person outside of wherever I'm at and imagine what this person could be doing right now. I tend to do that even when it's late at night and the whole world is asleep. So, I take this imagined person outside the city I live and land them somewhere else. Where is this somewhere else? What's happening? What's happening next? And I continue asking, "What next?" And soon, a story is born.

Hopefully as 2018 kick's off, a few of these methods to get those creative juices flowing gets you headed in a creative direction.

Nicole Pyles is a writer and blogger living in Portland, Oregon. When she isn't writing, she's reading books and watching obscure TV movies on YouTube. You can find her blog over at the World of My Imagination. 


Sioux Roslawski said...

Nicole--I love the song mash-up idea. I don't know if I could use it (I don't write much fiction) but I imagine other writers could take that idea and run with it.

I like a variation of "What next?" On the few occasions that I have dabbled in fiction, I contemplate "What if?" What if the main character failed at such-and-such? What if one of the characters had a horrible bone break, and was laid up for weeks... How would that impact the other characters?

Thanks for this post. We writers always need to think about sources for ideas.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Awesome post, Nicole! Thanks for the inspiration and links to the newspaper archives and reddit forums. I frequently get lost in the reddit maze...people's comments are pure entertainment. The song mix is a unique idea and one I've never heard of before! Now I'm thinking of two songs I could connect. :)

I'm like Sioux...I'm not writing fiction right now and focusing on creative nonfiction, but your ideas have inspired me to stretch my writing muscles and maybe try a short story.

Nicole Pyles said...

Oh yes! That what if game has saved me from falling into the whole stuck plot thing that plagues me in a story. Hehe

Nicole Pyles said...

Oh yes and those reddit forums are just a maze for me too. :) A fine balance between distraction and inspiration. Hehe.

Renee Roberson said...

Great post, Nicole! I find a lot of inspiration from those unsolved mysteries and true crime--it works for me! I also love the idea about flipping through old newspapers and magazines for stories, and the song prompt is very unique. (LOVE Sia, by the way!)

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