Your mind is a virtual idea factory. It’s true. No matter your profession, your age, your level of experience or expertise, you come up with lots of ideas every day. If you’re a writer sitting alone staring at a blank screen waiting for inspiration to strike, it is easy to doubt this fact, but as the great writer Neil Gaiman once said, “You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.”
As any writer knows, the need to cultivate a constant stream of ideas – ideas that are not only interesting, but are also original, useful, practical, and informative – is never ending. But ideas are slippery, intangible, often difficult to view objectively, and all too easy to dismiss. A good writer knows not just how to generate lots of ideas, but also how to recognize those that are unique, useful, and interesting enough to mold into a compelling piece that entertains and educates. Fortunately, there are simple things you can do to fine-tune your idea-generating machine.
Provide the Fuel
New ideas are simply bits of old information combined in original ways. So it follows that information is fuel for idea generation just the way logs are fuel for a campfire. When you find yourself staring at an empty page and starting to panic, it’s time to do something different, whether that is taking a walk around the block, trying to write a haiku about the rain outside your window, or even reading the news online. On the surface, this may seem like just another procrastination tactic, of which most writers have many, but changing your scenery or engaging in a new activity provides new information for your brain, which stimulates idea generation.
Remember, Everything Counts
One of the best mantras for any creative professional is “everything counts.” Everything you do is a potential source of information, and therefore of inspiration. Whether you decide to take a bus ride through an unfamiliar neighborhood, spend an hour gossiping over coffee with a colleague, or even watch a movie, you are providing your idea-generation machine with the fuel that makes it hum. So remember, “everything counts” in the idea business.
Don’t Censor Yourself
No idea is any good if you don’t give it a chance. Throughout the day, random thoughts percolate in your mind. Don’t judge – or worse, dismiss – the merit of these buds of ideas. If it seems like a good idea to you, even just for a fleeting moment, it is worth examining further. Jot these thoughts down as they occur to you. You never know which might provide the seed for your next great idea to grow.
Follow Your Whims
If you are curious about something, it’s likely that others are as well. Let yourself ask lots of questions. Ask what if? Why? How? Who? Where? What if you combined vanilla and clams in a pot? Why does puffed rice cereal snap, crackle, and pop? How does a pressure cooker work to cook food? Who invented pop-up ads? Where is the best place to get a donut in San Francisco? There’s surely an interesting story in there somewhere!
Find Your Story
When beginning any new writing assignment, read everything you can about the subject before setting your own writing plan into motion, not to copy what previous writers have done, but in order to discover what unique information or perspective you can bring to the topic. Ask yourself what questions others have left unanswered, what could you explain more clearly, where could you delve more deeply, or how could you add additional useful information? Take notes as you read, again considering any and every idea that occurs to you, and when you’re done you’ll likely have if not a fully formed thesis, at least the kernel of a good idea for where to start your piece and which direction it will lead.
Each of us walks around with a head full of ideas. Honing good ideas for stories every day is the hard work of being a writer, but by following these five tips, you can keep your own idea factory humming, and the ideas coming.
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Media Shower writer Robin Donovan is well known for her work in food blogging. You can follow her on www.TwoLazyGourmets.com.