Where do you get ideas for writing projects?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Writer.

Writing is work that starts with an idea.

Man writing.

Writing.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

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.

SasquatchWandering 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.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, and many other online stores.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

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.

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Why do you want to write?

By David Joel Miller, MS, writer.

It is essential to look at the reasons you want to write.

Man writing.

Writing.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Lots of people say they would like to write, but from having that thought, to producing a finished piece of writing, can be a long and complicated process. For you to get a good start on this writing path, it is crucial that you get clear on why you want to write.

Some people can’t stop themselves from writing. Throughout their life they find themselves writing things down. Sometimes these people write in journals, diaries, or in this era they may be writing on social media or a blog. If you’re one of those people, keep writing. Your biggest challenge will be to figure out what to do with all those filled notebooks or computer files.

If you’re who has been telling yourself, you want to write, but nothing ever gets recorded, the first step is to get clear on why you’re doing this. Ask yourself if any of the reasons for writing below fit you.

You want to be famous.

A few, very few, writers become famous, most of them must wait until after their deaths to reach that celebrity status. Unless you’re a voracious reader, you probably will have trouble remembering the names of more than a few living writers. Stephen King and J. K. Rowling come to mind.

Ask yourself how many politicians you know by name? How many sports stars, movie stars or reality TV show actors do you recognize by name? If your primary goal is to become famous, you probably want to pick something whole lot easier than putting in the hours you will need to practice, to get even passably good at writing.

You want people to notice you.

Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert writing is primarily a solitary activity. If you crave social interaction, writing is not likely to get you there. You would get more attention from teaching a class to a room full of students then you’re ever likely to get from writing.

Much of the attention writers get is the negative kind. When you write, you create something in isolation and then release it into the world. To continue writing you need to develop a thick skin knowing that the more you do, the more likely you will be to get negative reviews and criticism.

You want to make money.

In almost every occupation there are a few outstanding successes, people who make phenomenal amounts of money. Don’t believe all the hype from the people selling classes on how to write and become rich. If you work extremely hard, you may be able to make a passable living from your writing, but to become an overnight success often takes years of practice.

To reach financial goals from your writing, you will need to work a day job to support yourself while you work at your night job creating your art for many years before your writing can pay off. In most salary surveys the average income writers earn from their writing is below the poverty level.

Don’t misunderstand my comments about how hard it is to make a living writing as meaning that you must starve for your art. Good artists can and do make a good living from their art. But to paraphrase a rock ‘n’ roll song, “it’s a long way to the top if you want to write.”

To express your creativity.

Writing is absolutely one way to express your creativity, but there are so many others. If your goal is to be creative, it may be worthwhile to explore some of the other mediums.

Writing, especially long-form writing, as in novels and nonfiction books, is still popular, but it’s having a hard time competing with the rapid growth in new media. There’s a lot of creativity these days going on in creating videos and programming video games. Writing involves creating with words, and you need to ask yourself how skilled you are in your use of words.

You express yourself best in words.

Some people express themselves with motion, dancing or demonstrating. Other people are very good at expressing themselves visually. If you must describe a building to someone, would you prefer to draw them a diagram or do you want to offer to take them on a tour? The writer must be good at observing that building and then painting an alluring picture using their vocabulary.

You are passionate about something.

People who are passionate, believe in a cause, find that the way they spread their enthusiasm about ideas best is to write about them. Political movements often begin with a writer spreading an idea. If you have a consuming passion for your subject, whether that’s cooking, travel, or anything else, you may find the best way to share that love for your topic is to write about it. When you genuinely care about something you can’t help sharing your passion for your subject.

For me, the writing journey began because of my passionate belief that people with mental or emotional disorders, addiction, or alcoholism, could recover and have full, happy lives. My writing has expanded from writing nonfiction about recovery to also writing novels about protagonists coping with problems in their lives.

You have a story you need to tell.

At heart writers of fiction are storytellers. If you have a good story to tell the writing technique disappears beneath the story. The best nonfiction books use stories to illustrate the principles they’re describing.

If somewhere inside of you there’s a story pushing to find its way into the world, I don’t see how you could not write that story. The final form of the story may not be a book, it might be a video, movie, or a live stage play, but the starting point for all those story expressions is that script someone wrote describing the story and how it needs to be told.

Thanks for reading another one of my posts about things I’ve learned along this journey toward becoming a better writer. If you have ideas about other reasons to write, please leave a comment below. If you have a question for me, you can either included them in the comments section or send them to me via the “contact me” page. Thanks for allowing me to share with you some of the things I am learning about writing.

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.

SasquatchWandering 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.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, and many other online stores.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

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.