What Should I Write?

How To Find Ideas And Inspiration

Light bulb plugging itself in
Image by Colin Behrens from Pixabay

Anyone who wants to be a writer may find themselves wondering where to get ideas from. My brain has always been filled with a constant stream of what-if scenarios that I never took too much time to think about where my ideas came from. As I continued writing and ideas seemed harder to come by, I looked back to the source and saw the ideas were far from gone, I needed to find them.

Where do ideas come from?

So the underlying question is, where the heck do ideas even come from? The answer isn’t as simple as pointing to a single source or a few sources. Ideas start as little seeds that develop over time into full flowers calling to the bees. As any ‘living’ thing goes though, some will die out, while others thrive.

Thinking of an idea as something that is alive is a great way to understand how it develops and grows over time. We may see a billboard, or overhear a conversation in public and be inspired. It may be some little that struck us at first, but then our brain gets to work.

Whether it is full-fledged novels or short nonfiction pieces we put out online, ideas don’t come to us ready for harvest. They need cultivating time before they are ready to show to the world. That does not mean you can sit around and hope your brain comes up with all the ideas you’ll ever need on your own.

It is important to pay attention, take notes, and be on the lookout since ideas can come to us at any time. Once you have that idea, that little seed, capture it and write it down, digitally on your phone, or on a spare napkin nearby. Ideas leave as quickly as they come so it is important to keep track of them when you have them. Ideas are the core to knowing what to write. If you keep a file of all that has come to you, next time you are looking for something to write, you don’t have to wait around.

Looking all around you

Outside, people with dog pointing, others walking by
Image by Sam Williams from Pixabay

Ideas can come from anywhere. While you don’t need to be on high alert and actively looking for them every second, you need to pay attention. No matter your lifestyle, there are going to be opportunities for inspiration in your life. Even taking the time to read this article may lead to an award-winning story by someone.

Assuming you go out in public at least every so often, you will be hit with possible ideas all around. A conversation between friends at the mall as they walk past. You hear a snippet and your mind wanders into what could have gotten them to say those words at that time. Looking out the window on a busy street and you see people walking by, and your brain makes up an entire story for their lives. Ones that are likely far different from the truth, but ones you can use in your next story.

Have you ever heard a couple fighting in public, or yelling at their kids? What are they saying that has them so upset? Could it be that they can’t decide on what cereal to buy and that was the final straw from a stressful week at work? Or has their kid asked to buy a toy a hundred times and the parent snaps after telling them no over and over?

We may never know the real answer to these questions, but we can come up with ones of our own. Oftentimes the fantasy we create in our minds is more interesting anyways. Using these little snippets of life outside our own can lead to creating a character who is fed up with their life and wants a change, leading them to an adventure of self-discovery. Or we may see a couple so in love they can’t help but show it everywhere they go and we create a fictional version of them who are addicted to public attention and seek every addict to have all eyes on them, even if it means humiliating others close to them.

Keeping a notebook or journal

person writing notes
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Having a notebook on you at all times seems insane as you watch a public outburst from someone asking for the manager and you whip out your pen and start writing down everything that is happening. That is not what I am suggesting you do either. Instead, take snippets of what is happening. Enough to remind you later and bring you back to that moment.

We aren’t looking to replicate word-for-word real scenarios that take place in our lives. Instead using these events as a source of inspiration, an idea. Something as simple as ‘crazy customer yelling for management over one too few ice cubes in their tea.”

So you don’t want to bring a notebook out in public, or your handwriting is terrible? Not a problem, I suggest that if possible, use the tool you already bring with you, your phone. Most smartphones whether Android or iPhone have some form of a notes app preinstalled on the device. This can also help in keeping the ideas you write down short and sweet as typing out long concepts on a phone is not the most enjoyable experience.

Then you can bring those to your computer whether through syncing with iCloud, or uploading as small text documents to google drive. Allowing you to go back later on your computer to see all your ideas that you have long since forgotten even happened.

This goes true for other areas where ideas come from.

Dreaming can be inspiring

swimmer in road swimming as if the road was water, dreamy
Image by 0fjd125gk87 from Pixabay

I have always been a pretty vivid dreamer. With having movie-like scenes take place as I sleep. Some are more concrete than others, and some are looser and all over the place. One day many years ago I started writing down these dreams the best I could as soon as I woke up.

This ensures that I can get the essence of the crazy dream I had before it disappears from my memory. Frequently I go back to look at the notes from 2:30 AM and wonder what the heck I was trying to say. Being half away while typing on my phone doesn’t always lead to the most comprehensible string of words, but generally, I can get the gist of what was going on.

The point again isn’t to capture the dream scene for scene as even with dreams that seem to make sense at the moment, quickly lose sense as you type it out. Dreams tend to weave in and out of different concepts, that while sleeping makes sense, but once awake can be chaotic at best.

Having the notes down as they happen is a way to increase the growing idea storage you have started. You may never look at it again, or it could spiral into a ten-book series. It is important to take advantage of this wild imagination journey our sleep takes us on before it is lost.

Online sources and generators

So dreams aren’t working, and the public has been fairly tame recently, what are other ways to get ideas? Plot generators and online writing prompts can be a great start. While they tend to be pretty generic at times, they can be the starting block to the foundation.

Our brains all work slightly differently in perceiving information. That is why you can give the same prompt to a hundred different writers and you will get a hundred or more different stories. Something even as simple as this article topic. I can imagine it has been talked about a thousand times over the decades, but it has never been talked about by me. There may be things I say that others have, but differently.

If I told you to write a short story about “A bounty hunter who has a new opportunity”, you may already have different scenarios running through your mind. I will likely have a different story than yours, and both are different from the next writer. There may be some that are similar in concept, but they will all take a different path.

We are both uniquely different and exactly the same as each other. This means that we can find ways to add our own touch to a piece while being relevant enough that others can enjoy it. Looking even at broader topics such as vampires. How many vampire stories have been told over the decades? Just because an idea has been done, does not mean it cannot be done again by someone else. Twilight and the classic Dracula could not be more different, but they both started from the same base, a story about a vampire(s).

‘Stealing’ from others

Image by PDPics from Pixabay

I will start by saying I do not mean plagiarizing, or selling someone else’s intellectual property as your own. A better term may be borrowing or using it as inspiration. Again you can take a well-known story and turn it into a hundred different ideas.

You have novels like Cinderella-inspired Cinder by Marissa Meyer, or more recently The Magicians that Harry Potter inspired. Even if not a direct inspiration, a subconscious one at least. If you wanted to write a novel inspired by Harry Potter you may write about a school for magical people or a story about a chosen child that had his parents die. You can take aspects of the story and combine them with others or ideas of your own.

This is where the powerful what-if can help. “What if Harry Potter was a pirate that travels the seas looking for those who killed his family?” That alone sounds like an interesting story to read, and something that you and I would write completely different from each other. So please, steal that idea if it sounds like something up your alley, and let me know when I can read it.

The closer you stay to the original material, the closer it gets to actual stealing and plagiarism. If you want to go that route, I might suggest fan-fiction where you can write about the existing characters and put them into your own situations. Just don’t try to make money from it.

What if my idea sucks?

So you have an overflowing list of ideas you have captured all throughout different aspects of your life. What do you do with those ideas, and how do you know if they are any good? Well chances are some of them will suck, and that is ok.

You don’t need every idea to be a NY Times BestSeller. What you need is to take advantage of the ideas around you and keep track of them. That way when you are looking for something to write about, you can pull from that list. I would stray away from deleting anything you don’t like at first. There may be an idea that sounds boring at first, but come back in a few months or years and it is exactly what you are looking for.

A good idea will stand out to you when you need it to. Scroll through the list you have made, and you will wonder how it took you this long to write about it. You may have to do some tweaking to make it work, but that is all an idea is for. An inspiration that leads to growing a full story.

In Summary

Ideas are everywhere, all the time, and just require a little paying attention. You may share the same idea as another, but that does not mean it will yield the same results. Take note when those snippets find you, and look back on your list when you are stuck in your writing. You may be surprised what your past selves had come up with and what your present self can do with it.

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