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Just Look Around: Ideas are Everywhere

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EyeInSkyHeader

Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day.
The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them.
Most people don’t see any.

–Orson Scott Card

When I speak about writing, one question I always get asked is “Where do you get your ideas?” Listeners lean forward expecting to hear how ideas come to me in a mystical, writing-magic moment, or how I begin by developing characters (or setting, or story) or how I am inspired by my muse. My answer is simple. Ideas are everywhere. Don’t believe me? Here are suggestions to get your creative juices flowing.

Go online to different news sites and grab some headlines. Make a list of 10-20 headlines. Then start listing different story ideas—go for at least 10 ideas for each headline. Feel free to change the headline to fit an idea. Now you have 100 ideas for stories! If a headline gives you an idea for an essay or opinion piece, go ahead and write it.

Ride the bus or train. People watch at a museum. At a local restaurant. In a shopping mall. The story ideas are endless.

Flip through a magazine and list ideas as they come to you. Photos of people (who are they, what is their story?) advice columns (never-ending ideas there) images or lines from advertisements. Record phrases from headlines and articles. Here are a few I wrote down while flipping through a waiting-room magazine: cigar-chomping dudes, passion for the sea, 10,000 women, brandy on her breath. Make your idea lists and choose one. Start writing.

Go on a walk and note what is happening around you or things you see. You can list a person, place, building, animal, what someone is wearing, a snippet of conversation, something you hear, a smell. Get specific. A garbage collector, the sound of a car in disrepair, an elderly couple walking hand in hand. Keep going. Later, get out your list, blindly choose three things. Now incorporate them all into a story or poem. (Added bonus: you will learn to get out of your head and better connect to the moment and the world around you.)

Speaking of “a snippet of conversation” tune into conversations when you are out in public. Restaurant, coffee shop, grocery store, party, meeting, wherever. Grab a line from an overheard conversation and use as a starting point of a story. Ideas will come faster than you can write them down.

When you listen to music, list what thoughts come to you. Just one song can spark a plethora of ideas. Who is singing? Write their story. Who is the “you” they are singing to? What happened between them? What happens when the song is over? What happened before the song began? Pull in an idea from one of your other lists and incorporate it into your writing. What happens next?

Open your eyes and look-listen-experience everything around you. Ideas are right there, just waiting to be written.

Kathy Steffen is an award-winning novelist and author of the “Spirit of the River Series:” “First, There is a River,” “Jasper Mountain,” and “Theater of Illusion,” available online and in bookstores everywhere. Additionally, Kathy is published in short fiction and pens a monthly writing column, “Between the Lines.” She writes from a log home in the woods of southwestern Wisconsin that she shares with her husband and three cats. Find out more at www.kathysteffen.com

 

  1. I just read your writing on Just Look Around, and it was so helpful to me. You have no idea. Alot of the things you suggested I already do…music is an example. I listen to good music…not todays stuff, and when it is on….the instruments do the talking to tell the story of what the song is about. It is fascinating to me to be able to detect that. The different instruments are the characters one or two of them to carry on the conversation that the writer of the music intended. Does that make sense. I will read more of your information here this evening, your writing was highly recommended by Alex Cavanaugh’s writers support group, and I truly feel your suggestions struck a cord so to speak! Thank you!! Sandy

  2. You are welcome Sandy, and thanks for your comment! Sounds like you get inspired by music and that is wonderful. The experience you describe makes perfect sense. I am moved emotionally by music and that translates into my writing. I’m a very visual person, so photos are inspiring to me (link to that article is http://howtowriteshop.loridevoti.com/2013/01/how-to-use-visuals-as-a-creative-writing-prompt/) Thanks so much Sandy, and happy writing!

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