By David Joel Miller, MS, Writer.
Writing is work that starts with an idea.
Coming up with fresh ideas for writing projects can be a challenge, especially good ideas. I’ve come up with several strategies for identifying ideas. Some of the approaches work well for blog posts but not for novels. Other methods may be useful for writing a nonfiction book.
Not having a good idea for writing project results in a whole lot of written words that don’t add up to anything worth reading. Start out with a boring idea, and you can write a million words and still not have a workable novel.
Writer’s block, in my book anyway, is a very different problem. Writer’s block characteristically happens when you have an idea, sit down and stare at the blank page, but you can’t find any words to say. I will save the topic of writer’s block for a subsequent post. Today some thoughts about how to get ideas in the first place. These are approaches I use, and if you have others, please leave a comment.
You can’t drink from an empty glass.
I’ve discovered that before I can write anything worth reading, I first need to fill my brain with ideas. I subscribe to more mailing lists that I can possibly read. As the newsletters come in, I sort them, unopened, into some file folders. Mental health material goes in one file folder. Articles about writing in another. Publishing and marketing have their own separate folders.
When I’m looking for ideas for blog posts, I will go to a file folder and start reading. For me, I find it useful to follow the clues. As I’m reading along an idea pops up. Usually, it’s something I realize I don’t know that much about or don’t have the information I would need to write a blog post. I record those ideas, especially search terms in a Word document titled, strangely enough, blog post ideas.
Once you have a topic go on a scavenger hunt.
Sometimes reading a stack of newsletters will trigger ideas worth a blog post or even a series. But more often what I come up with is a topic. This happened to me recently when I discovered several blog posts about burnout. Lots of people are dealing with burnout. Which raises the questions why so much burnout, and how do you prevent burnout?
Having the topic leads me to look for available resources. For a nonfiction topic like burnout I go to scientific journal articles, look at the research. Fortunately for me, I have a subscription to a scientific journal database. Before I had that subscription had to go to the University library and use their computers.
Next, I search that database. Frequently the search will return tens of thousands of articles. The ones at the beginning of the list are usually much more relevant than the ones in the last thousand. Typically, I read through the titles and descriptions of the first 100 articles, saving copies of the ones that look interesting to a flash drive for later reading.
Over the next few days, I’ll read articles, making notes as I go. I’ve learned if I’m not careful I get notes but can’t find the original source. As a result, I started keeping the notes in an electronic Word document beginning with the citation of the article followed by my notes.
Once I’ve read enough of the articles to feel I have a grasp of the subject I make up a list of possible titles for blog posts. Then I start writing. The good part of the system is I get a lot of ideas. The bad part is I have a lot of half-finished articles that never made it to the finish line.
Using this system, I often end up with not one post, but a series of posts on a topic which I scheduled to appear over several months.
Read lots of books in your subject area.
My office is full of books. The walls are lined with bookcases filled to overflowing. Sitting next to my chair is a stack of books I bought, saying I would read them someday, but never got to. When I’m short on ideas, I look through the pile, pick the book that seems most interesting and start reading.
Often reading one book on the topic triggers other questions. I then go searching for other books on the same subject. Sometimes I go to the library in hopes they have a book I don’t. Online library catalogs to be especially helpful. For a novel I was writing I decided I needed some specific background information. A quick web search didn’t turn up the information I wanted. But my local library was able to get me a book from another library that provided a lot of background information for the historical period I was writing about. For me, one thing always seems to leave to another.
Nourish your curiosity.
Everything you encounter can trigger an idea for the next thing you’re going to write. Don’t passively consume experiences. Be curious. If you’re watching a TV show, ask yourself what else could have happened. Be interested in the places you go and the people you meet. Any of these situations may be just the idea you need for the next piece you’re going to write.
Make friends with your muse.
A lot of prospective writers seem to have a very conflicted relationship with their muse. When they don’t have an idea, they blame her, and they look very reluctant to go anywhere or do anything until she appears. When they can’t find an idea, they blame it on their muse and sit idly by waiting for her next visit.
My muse and I have a very odd relationship which I will tell you about in an upcoming blog post. Thanks for reading.
You’ll find more posts on this topic under – Writing.
Staying connected with David Joel Miller
Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!
Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.
Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.
Sasquatch. Wandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.