Where Ideas Come From

Professional writers, especially novelists, are often asked where they get their ideas.

Ideas come from other ideas. You see connections and you train your mind to weigh in on those connections. One thing leads to another, and an idea grows out of the possibility for expressing a similarity or a difference between what you’ve observed.

For someone who’s just getting into writing – perhaps you’ve started your own blog and the prospect of writing three or four blog posts of about 400 words each is scaring you – you will find that by doing it, the ideas will come. As with many other things in life, showing up is a great part of success. And for a writer, showing up means forging ahead, whether an idea is present or not. Ideas come.

Your audience will help you. As you begin to write, you begin to engage with an audience, and that audience will respond to your writing if you start to converse with them in the digital platform that you’ve been building.

If you’re new to blogging, though, you’re more frightened by what you see as your lack of inspiration. Don’t fret about it. Even inspiration is a result of showing up daily and sitting down to the task. But here are a few tips for eliciting ideas and building upon them:

  • Make notes. If you’ve got a smart phone, you’ve got a notes application built right in. When you notice something pertaining to your topic (even something that seems only tangentially related to it), make a note of it so you don’t forget it. If you prefer a more analog approach to note-taking, keep a small pad or notebook (and pen) with you. In any event, you will soon have a rolling file of observations that will give you something to build upon.
  • Use Google Alerts to track the postings of everyone in your field you want to follow. In this way, you can see what others are saying, and you can respond to them, thus creating not only a link back to your own blog site, but also giving you topics for further discussion – you can, without any problem, write a blog post of your own that is a virtual reply to another blog post. Google Alerts can also bring to your attention any other writings – whether they’re simply mentions in articles or other blogs – related to your topic. This can save you having to comb newspapers and cut out articles for future use: the Google Alerts system can cast a much wider net over the ocean of information available. These alerts can certainly whet your creative juices.
  • Plan your week’s postings ahead. If you’re using your blog to write a book online, then you’ve already done some of the mapping-out of your topic. If you’ve committed to three or four blog posts a week, you should, of course, stick to this commitment. Do yourself a favor and plan your week ahead: Topic A for the first blog, Topic B for the second. Topic B can be an extension of the first, as can Topic C. You don’t want to overwhelm your readers with too many ideas in a blog post – simpler is better.
  • Reuse your existing ideas. You can always revisit something you’ve written about. You’re not repeating yourself: you’re refining your message. This will be something that will come naturally to you once your audience begins to weigh in on things you’ve written: in your response to readers’ responses, you will be further clarifying your message. Which will lead to more ideas.

If you’ve got other ideas for generating ideas, we’d love to hear them!

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2 Responses to “Where Ideas Come From”

  1. Andrea Reindl December 22, 2011 at 12:52 am #

    Bob, one of the best things to work from is the book outline from Michael. It’s a simple process that you can follow and makes writing ideas almost automated. Tapping into the creative all at once then building out the outline is brilliant!

  2. Kirsten Nelson December 22, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    Those are all great tips! I use all of them. My two favorites are the book outline and making notes in an app on my phone as ideas come up. Then when I sit down to write, I already know what I want to cover and it takes that stress out of the picture.

    One other idea generating strategy that works for me is to journal/free-write for 10 minutes straight everyday about whatever pops into my head. It really helps me get in the “flow” and it also clears out all the “mind clutter” making a clear path for the good stuff.

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