As someone who is often working on a writing project, I get asked this question: “Where the heck do all those ideas come from?”
And while I could answer in an opaque, “artistic” way about the muses and the gifts of the creative spirits, there are some practical methods I’ve discovered over the years, first as a grad student who needed to be constantly writing and then as a professor who needs to constantly create new writing prompts for my students.
Here are seven ways I refill the old “well of ideas”:
1.The sky (aka nature): There’s a reason why a lot of writers wax poetic about the wonders of nature – writers spend a lot of time wandering around in the woods trying to cure their writer’s block! Give me a good Saturday morning hiking up a local hill and I guarantee that I’ll probably have at least one new idea for a project I’m working on by the next day. Fresh air can work wonders and not just for your lungs!
2. Internet Cat Memes and library books (aka absorbing and re-imagining): Let’s face it – we all spend way too much time on the internet. But, if you’re paying attention, you might just get ideas. Sure, you may not come up with the next Henri, le chat noir – a cat who muses on philosophy – but perhaps you might be inspired for your next paper topic. (The Sociology of Sloths: a Study in Laziness, perhaps?)
3. The Elle Woods phenomenon (aka discovering your process): Look, I’m already modeling #2 for you! Elle Woods from Legally Blonde proved that being a lawyer could involve some serious “pink power.” The best way to come up with new ideas is to nurture your own process. Elle thought best when she related cases to her own life…maybe you think best when eating gummy bears and listening to Metallica’s collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony on S&M? (That last example is from a friend, I swear. I actually prefer gummy worms…)
4. Magnetic Refrigerator Poetry (aka creating your own prompts): You can take this suggestion literally and see what ideas you come up with by moving those little magnetic words around into new sentence constructions. However, you can also just set challenges for yourself: “I want to include [x] into my paper. How can I make that happen?”
5. Deadlines: There’s nothing quite like a deadline to get you motivated to write something – anything – down!
6. Time: On the other hand, giving yourself plenty of time can help too. I get my best ideas when I really have time to think through what I want to say. I also often get my ideas when I least expect them – clearly, my subconscious has been hard at work though!
7. I don’t know: I’m cheating here. Sometimes, I can’t really tell you where the ideas come from – and that’s why writers sometimes seem so mysterious when they try to answer this question!
Where do YOUR ideas come from?