People often ask me, “Where do you get your ideas?”
The answer is simple but rarely satisfying to the questioner: “Everywhere.”
Let me provide a little background information that will prove useful later on … I work full-time as a high school English teacher, and with that comes constant planning, educating, and assessing. I have a nine-year-old and a six-year-old, and they are involved in many, many … many activities. I’m married to a wonderful woman with endless responsibilities who also works full time. We have a house and all the needs a house requires. In other words, we’re busy … I’m busy.
Yet, I write. Regularly.
At the moment, I specialize in flash fiction, because that’s about all I can muster amidst a chaotic life that I love dearly. However, I think I’m pretty good at these little five page stories, and I’m even better at conceiving, executing, and publishing within the span of a few days. (If interested, you can find them all HERE.)
Novels still hold great appeal, and I have a few in the works, but those require prolonged, sustained effort, meticulous planning, and the willingness to invest years (if not decades).
The point is, with over 50 short stories, two books, and three novels in progress, I’m still finding things to write about — the ideas keep coming.
Here are four pieces of advice I’d like to offer to help you on your journey. Follow these pointers, and I know new ideas will always be within reach.
- Mind Wide Open
Always be on the lookout for ideas. No matter what you’re doing, keep that little writer in your mind awake and hungry. Everything can be a story. Inspiration is everywhere, but it’s not always easy to see. When you see something that piques your curiosity, ask yourself why it may be happening. Then, make up your own answer. There’s your story. This requires a certain willingness to observe, a bit of compulsive inquisitiveness, and an imaginative mind that never shuts down.
- Take Note!
Here’s where a lot of people get in trouble — they come up with an amazing idea in the shower, while driving, on the toilet, etc., tell themselves they will write about it later, and then completely forget about it. Believe me, I’ve learned this lesson the hard way more times than I’d like to admit. Always, always, always, ALWAYS have some tool at your disposal that allows you to take note. Maybe it’s a text to yourself; maybe it’s using the note app on your phone; maybe it’s keeping a pen on you so that you can write on a receipt, a napkin, your hand; maybe it’s moving a ring to the wrong finger so that you’ll ask yourself later why that ring is on the wrong finger which reminds you that you put your ring on the wrong finger in order to remember that amazing idea! I’ve slept with a notepad next to my bed for over ten years now. I’m glad I got in the habit of doing this because what may turn out to be my greatest story — Dr. Nekros — literally came to me in a dream. I woke up, took a few notes, drew a quick sketch, and then went back to sleep. Imagine my surprise when I awakened the next morning!
- Act Like a Worm
The greatest piece of advice I read by Stephen King told writers that if they want to write prolifically, they must read voraciously. It’s true. If you are always on the lookout for ideas, and you read as much as humanly possible, new ideas will always be within reach. For example, ever read a line in a book that got you thinking about a topic you never before considered? There’s your idea. I once read an article in Smithsonian Magazine about advances in artificial limbs. This got my gears turning, and before too long “Thumb War” appeared. Reading does so much for writers beyond providing creative inspiration. It also exposes us to new vocabulary, helps us to experience various styles and mechanics, and generally educates. There is no downside to being a bookworm.
- Don’t Use the Force
Finally, don’t force it. Yes, always keep an open mind, but don’t try so hard to come up with an idea that you implode. Forcing it leads to frustration, which leads to writer’s block. I don’t know about you, but I can barely remember my own name when I get super frustrated. If the ideas aren’t coming, accept it. Go for a walk. Read a little. See a movie. Play with your kids. Take your loved one to dinner. In other words — relax! Take a break, get refreshed, and then come back and try again.
Believe me, if you commit to these four simple practices, you’ll have plenty of writing ideas in no time at all. Thanks for reading, best of luck, and keep writing!
(Did you enjoy this article? Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)