Coming Up With Writing Ideas

This guest post was written by Steven A. Taylor.

I decided to wait until Monday to write this, to really put my money where my mouth is.  See, for me, Garfield, and probably a few others, Mondays are the worst.  I’ve usually just finished a weekend doing the things I love to do – sleeping in, spending time with family & friends, going out, staying in, watching movies, catching up on some reading – and now I’m back to the grind, as they say.  Doing the things I don’t necessarily love to do, but the things I have to do, and paying the price accordingly.  Getting back on my weekday sleep schedule, returning to the gym, resuming a semi-healthy eating pattern, and all the other stuff I tend to toss by the wayside when the world is my oyster.

By the end of the week, I’m usually at my sharpest, mentally.  But, on Mondays, I have tough time … figuring out … the words.

It isn’t necessarily limited to a particular day of the week, but as a writer, I’ll go through periods of tremendous activity, followed by extended periods of inertia, where I not only lack in a motivating force, but I don’t even try.  When it finally dawns on me that I haven’t written anything creatively for a while, I scold myself and then set out to try to rectify the oversight.  These are some of the tricks I use when attempting to break out of my writing slumps.

For starters, I like to block out a lot of time (a few hours, at least).  It takes some of the pressure away if, for instance, you only have 60 minutes free before you have to move on to something else.  Or, even worse, if you really start getting somewhere positive towards the end of those 60 minutes, and then you either have to break off from what you’re doing, or continue your progress while neglecting your other obligations.

It also helps to get your brain working.  Caffeine is a way I like to cheat, as I find I’m much more alert and have many more neurons firing if I consume a large jug of coffee or iced tea first.  But, there are other ways to get your brain going.  I find doing something really monotonous and pointless – making iTunes playlists, coming up with various Top 10/20/50 lists, or just ripping through an easy Sudoku or crossword puzzle or something – will find me engaged and get me thinking about other things, so that when I’m done, I should be ready to start thinking about writing again.

If I’m looking to write something brand new – like a short story – I’ll just start writing about the first thing that comes to mind.  It can be anything!  One time, I wrote a 2-page rant on how much I dislike Reality TV, and it eventually morphed into one of my favorite stories.  Just start writing about any topic, and see if it takes you somewhere else.  You might end up scrapping 95% of what you write, but maybe you’ll stumble on a kernel of an idea that you can reuse in something you like better.

If I’m looking to continue a longer piece – like a novel or a play – and I’m trying to determine what should happen next, often I’ll go for a long walk.  I know I’m not suggesting anything that hasn’t already been recommended by writers since the beginning of time, but it really does help to get out there and go someplace new.  I’m also the type of person who likes to talk things out to myself.  I’m sure I look like a crazy person when I’m walking through a park talking to myself about characters and plot and whatnot, but for me, talking it out seems to help.  I suppose, if you have someone you’re close with (ideally, someone who is also a writer), you could talk it out with them as well.

For what it’s worth, going out for a walk can be really helpful when trying to write something new as well.  Not only can you clear your head, but if you remain open to what’s around you, the outside world can be an endless funhouse of people and things – both great and terrible – that could be the inspiration of your next piece.

If all else fails, there are always some fun writing exercises to try.  Your output on these doesn’t necessarily have to be amazing, but sometimes just the act of writing anything can jumpstart you towards writing something you really love.  Some examples include:

— Take a story (preferably one that’s open-ended, or ends ambiguously), either from print, TV, or movies, and imagine what would happen next.  You could start from the instant the other piece ends, or you could skip ahead 50 years, it’s up to you.  Just write the first thing that comes to mind.

— Think of a person in your life, then put them in a situation they would never in a million years be in, and write about what happens.  Feel free to take as many liberties as you’d like in how they would react.

— Find an interesting blurb or headline in the news, then write the “behind the scenes” story as if you know exactly what happened.

— What would you do if you knew today was your last day on Earth?  This could be anything from a bucket list, to an inner monologue, to a fantasy of how you’d spend your final hours.

— Imagine you’re the secret offspring of someone really famous.  Who would it be?  What would you say to them?  What would your life be like going forward?

Those are just a few ideas; you can find countless more writing prompts online.  The thing I find is, when I get myself in the mood, writing begets more writing.  Even if I’m not writing creatively, I try to write something on most days, even if it’s just writing out what I did that day, or my plans for the weekend, or a blog post about sports or pop culture or current events or whatever else might interest me.  Getting and keeping the juices flowing in any capacity should make it that much easier in those times where you’re sitting down to a blank screen, trying to will yourself to create that next masterpiece.

This guest post was written by Steven A. Taylor.

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