Are you often looking for writing ideas? Do you gravitate to one writing prompt after another and still feel uninspired? Just like people sometimes look for love in all the wrong places, writers, too, may need to seek alternative sources for ideas.
Where do you usually look for writing ideas? Do you typically explore new territories as you search? You don’t have to look far. Add to your list of writing ideas by looking in alternative places right under your nose.
Let’s explore a few.
Revisit Abandoned Essays
If you have some pieces you started and abandoned (honestly, who doesn’t), re-visit them. In some cases, the pieces I located in a folder on my computer were written three to four years ago. They had feeble beginnings, but looking at them again I saw they contained threads of topics that still matter to me.
I’d started one piece about hope, and I was pleasantly reminded about strategies I’ve used to center myself and cultivate hope—e.g., making an altar of objects I felt connected to, using breathing meditation, or envisioning a protective bubble. Many of the techniques I’d written about are still relevant to me, and some I’ve expanded since that first attempt at an essay. Plus, I have received thoughtful gifts that offer great comfort and inspiration. By revisiting the ditched essay, I found a source for a new essay.
Where are your draft essays? Can you open one at a time and commit to revising that piece with the new ideas that come to you?
Take a Sensory Trip
Recently I read an article, “There’s No Place Like Home” by Kerrie Flanagan, about how writers can make a foray into travel writing. Flanagan suggests that “regardless of the type of travel article or the destination you are writing about, remember to weave in as many of the five senses as you can. Entice the reader to experience the location you are sharing about.”
Immediately I started thinking about Concord, MA, a town a short drive from my home, that I visit a few times each year. You may recognize the town of Concord from history lessons. It’s the location of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the first battle of the American Revolutionary War. Or maybe you recall its rich literary history. Its the home of writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, and Thoreau. And perhaps you’ve found inspiration from Walden Pond, the place where Thoreau wrote the infamous sentence, “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…”
Tourists throng to Concord all seasons of the year, but the idea of the piece I started thinking about might differ from the usual historical articles. Mine would include the setting of Nashoba Brook Bakery, where the smell of freshly baked bread wafting knocks you out as soon as you open the door. It would include how on summer days you can eat outside and hear the peaceful sound of the babbling Nashoba Brook.
My essay would also include Nesting, a unique shop up a steep flight of steps where the merchandise is an inspiring mix of contemporary and vintage objects. It offers so many great things to pick up and touch, like scaly pine combs, smooth, silky rocks. And the air is filled with the most-pleasing scent of fir and grapefruit scented candles.
Usually, I end up at the Concord Bookshop as well. It’s a long-standing independent bookstore where you will only hear the streaming of classical music, lovely Bach cantatas, and Beethoven symphonies, quickly transporting you to a calmer place. And in this shop, you can inhale the enticing scent of new books.
From reading the article and taking a sensory trip to a place I know, I see the potential of another essay idea.
Where’s a place you know well? What sensory experiences could you use to describe the location in your writing?
Write About Your Musings
There may be things you think about often. And, if you’re like me, you might think that because you think about them that everyone else does, too. And you might assume; therefore, those thoughts are not good writing ideas. Think again.
I believe we all have unique musings that would surprise even the people closest to us. It occurred to me that I could write about a nagging thought I have about how my body may be aging, but inside I feel as if I’m still eighteen years old. Does that ever change? Who can’t relate to that thought?
What’s something you find yourself thinking about often? Can you try writing about it?
Sit On It
Recently after submitting an article, I received feedback that the piece didn’t provide enough of my own analysis. At first, I was stymied by the comment, but when I sat on it for a day or two, I realized that the article really hadn’t accomplished what I had set out to do.
The next morning, refreshed and inspired I sat down again. This time I dug deeper. By allowing myself to continue to work on the piece, I was able to make it stronger. Being able to sit on critiques and early drafts enables you to pump fresh blood into your writing.
What do you need to sit on? How did it change when you gave the writing more time? Is there something you’d benefit from sitting on now?
Simmer Your Ideas Slowly
I admit I’d been feeling a little stuck in my writing recently. One day when I should have been writing, I sat down and flipped through the 300+ pages of a new cookbook, Ottolenghi Simple: A Cookbook. I loved the introduction and the way the cookbook was organized around definitions of simplicity—short on time, 10 ingredients or less, make ahead, everyday ingredients, slow cook, and easier-than-you-think recipes.
The next day I chose a slow-cook recipe to try. While the eggplant and lentil stew simmered on the back burner, I sat at the kitchen table and wrote (even remembering to get up and stir every now and then). I am convinced that by simmering my ideas slowly I was able to move from a spark of an idea to a few written pages in that time.
Can you write and simmer one of your next dinners at the same time? If cooking doesn’t resonate for you, how can you slow down and multi-task, so your writing ideas gestate and grow inside you?
Laughter Can Be What the Doctored Ordered
I was invited one night to hear a stand-up comedian in downtown Boston. It took a whole lot of effort to push myself out of the house that night, but during the two hours I was at the comedy club I laughed more than I can remember laughing in a very long time.
Laughter was precisely what I needed. It calmed and relaxed me, and I saw the effects in everything I did for days after…including writing.
Will a good dose of laughter set your writing free? What funny movie or TV show can you watch tonight with an eye for writing ideas? Maybe a funny podcast will get your giggles…and ideas…flowing?
Dig Deeper with a Dewey Decimal Journey
You may have go-to techniques that have helped you begin digging for ideas after a long hiatus. However, sometimes you may need to try different tactics.
For example, when I’m feeling particularly stuck, I go to the library, walk the circumference of the new books, and pick a few very diverse titles and subjects off the shelves. If something really piques my interest, I’ll go on a Dewey-Decimal journey in the library, climbing the steps to the second floor, and scanning rows of books close in number to the book in my hand.
The Dewey walk helps give me many writing ideas. If you’ve never tried it as a way to dig deeper for writing fodder, I highly recommend giving it a go.
What kind of journey can you take to dig for new ideas?
Stay Open to Inspiration
Inspiration can be found in all sorts of places. By being open to looking in alternative places you may arrive at destinations you hadn’t thought of before. I’d love to hear about what’s worked for you. Share in a comment below.
About the Author
Deb Hemley writes memoir, personal essay, short fiction, and articles about social media. She has published pieces in Biographile, Hippocampus Magazine, All That Matters, and Survivor’s Review. You can follow her on Twitter @dhemley.