If you’re mysteriously blessed with a mind that produces new writing ideas like new bunnies in a burrow, life probably is pretty good. If you’re like most authors, though, you likely need to find a little inspiration from time to time. That inspiration can come from dozens of places, including:
- Magazine or website articles: What did the original author miss or not consider? How can you put your own spin on the title to make it fresh?
- Social media posts: What’s your stance on what others said? Why? How can you present both sides of the argument to inform others? What backstory can you imagine that might have led to the post?
- Everyday objects: What other uses could your items have in another time or world? This doesn’t have to change the basics of the item–the frying pans used as weapons in Tangled, for example, stayed frying pans. But what if they were alive or had dramatically different features? What would society look like without them, or what alternatives would we potentially create and why? Combining unlikely pairs also has good potential.
- History: Can you tell an untold story no one has uncovered? What about taking a specific event or conflict and creating characters to contribute to it? (e.g., Beloved) How about warping elements of time and events that have happened? (For example, Outlander.) Don’t forget to use your own experience and memories here, too. These can make great memoirs, blogs and editorials. But you also can let yourself travel what-if paths, too, such as imagining what would have happened if you’d really kissed What’s-His-Face behind the bleachers.
- Dreams: It’s OK if the dream doesn’t have a true plot and appears more like a blip of a scene to you. Think about the overall concept, the feeling the dream left you with. Then try to shape text around that.
- Eavesdropping: No, I’m not telling you to invest in spy gear. You’re not trying to invade privacy here. Just take the conversation and flesh it out with backstory or explanations. For instance, if someone’s yapping on the phone in line next to you about needing to move, why are they leaving? What could they be getting into that they don’t anticipate? How can you imagine the person on the other end of the phone?
- Nature: This is especially fun for myths and fairy tales. But the environment also can be ripe with options for children’s story’s or fables that teach, such as the ant’s industry. As with everyday items, try to imagine what else the elements could do, like the Ents from the Lord of the Rings or the mail owls from Harry Potter.
- Other books: You never want to copy what someone else has done so closely that others accuse you of not having your own style or voice. But when you find a text you like, ask yourself what it is about the book you’re drawn to. Maybe it’s the flavor of the time period or the feeling a specific character gives you. Ask yourself how you can capture or use that for yourself.
- Art: You of course can try to imagine backstories for the images you find–medieval and renaissance art, in particular, can be great for creation, relationship or war stories. But you also can try to find specific elements in the art. For instance, perhaps you discover a portrait with the saddest eyes you’ve ever seen that feel just right for your main character, or maybe you can come up with a unique metaphor or analogy based on what the artist has done. Some art, like Munch’s The Scream, can invoke specific feelings you can run with. Abstract art is great for this.
- Interviews and conversations: Talking to others can open your eyes to new perspectives and even provide the basis for characterizations. Pay attention not only to what they tell you, but elements like word choice and pace of speech.
And yes, you of course can dive into writing prompts for ideas, too. These have both pros and cons, as I explored in this previous blog. But these don’t work for everybody. If they’re not you’re cup of tea, don’t sweat it.
Great ideas can come from anywhere. The big key is to let go of biases that tell you “can’t”. The Tangled frying pans, for instance, require you to abandon the idea that you only can use the pans to cook. Constraints like this are built over a lifetime of experience, so they’re hard to abandon, but just let yourself free associate and see what happens. Prune out what you don’t like later, not as you go.