Image from Flickr by Sean MacEntee
You want to write … but you don’t seem to have anything to write about.
Whether you’re writing blog posts, fiction, articles, or a book, try these ways to get a creative spark going. There are fifteen general tips, plus five for bloggers and five for fiction-writers:
Any Type of Writing
#1: Read – a lot
To be a writer, you need to read. You should be familiar with what’s happening in your chosen genre or field – but you’ll also want to read outside your comfort zone so that you have a wider pool of ideas to draw on.
#2: Take a walk
I find that walking is a great way to daydream guilt-free (at least I’m getting some fresh air and exercise…) If you can head somewhere inspiring, even better – but a simple stroll around your local streets can help the creative cogs to turn.
#3: Flick through magazines or newspapers
As well as being a great idea-generation method, this is also a nifty way to put procrastination to good use. Browsing through magazines and newspapers can throw up all sorts of ideas, from the lurid to the tragic.
#4: See the world
Travelling has so many benefits for writers: you get out of your usual routine, you try new things, you have plenty of “waiting” time to sit and write in a notebook (on trains, in airports, etc), and you’ll often find your pre-conceptions challenged.
#5: Use your hobbies and interests
If you’ve got a strong interest, write about it. I blog about writing because it’s something I love and a central part of my life. You could write an article, start a blog, or even use an unusual hobby as the basis for a novel.
#6: Listen to music
Music can throw up ideas and get you in the mood to write. You might want to choose music that evokes a particular atmosphere, ideally one that ties in with the tone of your writing. Sit and listen; see what thoughts bubble up. Lyrics (and misheard lyrics!) can also be a great source of inspiration.
#7: Go to an art gallery
Like music, art works can inspire writing: William Carlos Williams’ poem Landscape with the fall of Icarus is about the painting of the same title by Bruegel. You don’t have to write the story of a piece of art, of course; you could simply take one element of it that sparks off an idea.
This is a great technique if you’re stuck part-way through a longer work. Sit down with a pen, or at your computer, and simply write. You can make notes, write about the struggles you’re having, write a section of your project – anything you want. You’ll be surprised what comes up.
#9: Carry a notebook and pen
You’ve probably heard this advice before: keep a notebook with you, so you can jot down ideas as they occur. Inspiration often strikes in odd places (on the bus, in the queue at the post office, during a dull meeting) – and ideas fade all too easily if they’re not captured.
#10: Connect two unrelated things
Creativity revolves around making new connections. If you can bring together two unrelated concepts or items, you’ve probably got a new idea. That might be an article like “The Homer Simpson Guide to Blogging” or a short story that pits two very different characters against one another.
#11: Write in different places
Your environment makes a difference. If you normally write at home, try other places: cafes, libraries, friends’ houses, holiday cottages, pubs, parks … anywhere you want. The head-space that you gain will help you be more creative – plus your surroundings may throw up all sorts of new ideas.
#12: Collect inspiring materials
Some writers like to collect objects, photos, and other materials that inspire them. You might try items that help you get into a creative mood (e.g. candles) or ones that spark off thoughts, like interesting photographs or postcards.
#13: Break the rules
Most forms of writing have certain rules, often unwritten ones that are silently agreed on. Blog posts, for instance, are almost always prose not poetry; fiction is rarely written in the second person (“you”). Try breaking some of the rules in your chosen field, for a short piece of experimental writing.
#14: Create a mindmap
Mindmapping is a great way to develop an idea … but it can also lead to new ones. Get a piece of paper (or use software like XMind) and write your key topic in the centre. Add ideas around the edge, drawing links between them where appropriate.
#15: Join a writing group or class
Being around other writers, and working on exercises or critiques, can help spark new ideas. Look for a local writers’ circle, or an evening class. If it’s hard to commit to attending a group at a specific time, try online courses, classes, or forums.
Mainly for Bloggers
#16: Ask your readers
Some of my most popular post have been the result of questions or suggestions from readers. Ask your readers what they want, and you’ll end up with plenty of ideas. You could run a survey to find out about different potential topics, or simply invite comments at the end of a post.
#17: Write a big list of ideas
Once you start coming up with ideas, it gets easier to generate more. Instead of struggling to write down just the first four or five ideas, keep going until you have twenty, thirty, or more. Don’t judge your ideas while you’re making your list; nothing is too silly or too bland at this stage.
#18: Tweak a borrowed title
Go to any popular blog, pick a title of an existing post, and create your own spin on it for your blog. This is a great way to come up with an idea, because it gives you a ready-made title, and often suggests a structure.
#19: Respond to something you disagree with
Perhaps there’s been a major new publication in your field, one that you fundamentally disagree with. Whether it’s a book or a blog post, you can offer your own take. That might mean responding point-by-point to a particular argument, or simply presenting evidence for the other side.
#20: Think like a beginner again
If you’ve been involved with and writing about the same topic for a long time, you might have forgotten what it was like to be a beginner. Think back to those early days, when you were excited but knew almost nothing. What questions did you have? What did you find confusing? Write about that.
Mainly for Fiction-Writers
#21: Choose an object
Physical objects can make great starting jumping-off points for fiction. Mundane ones work well. What’s around you right now? My (cluttered!) desk currently has two empty mugs, a glass of water, two notebooks, a pen, some business cards, my passport, a couple of books… any of these could spark a story idea.
#22: Write from a prompt
There are plenty of books and websites that collate writing prompts: lines of dialogue, scenarios, photos, quotes, or other snippets to help you get started. Here’s one: A character arrives at work to find her chair missing. What happened to it? (from The Pocket Muse: Ideas and Inspirations for Writing)
#23: Use a starting line from another story
Sometimes, the hardest part of fiction is the first line. So cheat! Grab a book from your shelf and use the first line of that, either as narrative or dialogue. (You can always change or delete it later.) I just picked up The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas; the first line is “You now have one choice.”
#24: Ask “what if…”
Some great stories come out of what if… questions. These don’t just have to be sci-fi (“What if we could travel through time?”) or fantasy (“What if magic existed alongside the modern world?”) – you can also ask questions like “What if an almost-forgotten secret came out on a young woman’s wedding day?”
#25: Interview your characters
If you’re not sure how to begin a story, or if you get stuck part-way, it might be because you don’t know your characters well enough. You can “interview” them – ask questions of them, in writing, and have them answer – to bring out new ideas and plot points.
Try out at least one of these techniques today, and see what you come up with! And if you decide to develop your idea into something more, read The Four Essential Stages of Writing for advice on planning, drafting, redrafting and editing.