What Can You Write About if You Don’t Have Any Ideas?
This post was originally published in November 2018 and revised and updated in January 2023.
Sometimes, you might want to write – but you don’t know what to write. You’re out of ideas.
Whether you’re working on blog posts, novels, short stories, freelance article pitches, or something else entirely, you need ideas. And you might have times when it feels like ideas are in very short supply.
Perhaps you could come up with an idea if you truly had to – but it wouldn’t necessarily be something that interests you enough for you to devote valuable writing time to it.
When I’ve finished one big writing project, like a novel, I often feel empty of ideas. So much of my creative energy has gone into the work I’ve just finished, it feels like I’ll never have any more ideas that I like as much.
Having gone through this several times now, I know that a new compelling idea will eventually come to me! It’s just a matter of time.
But if you’re in that situation, what can you do to fill the time while you’re waiting for that new idea? Or how can you help it along?
There are a few options that I’ve found helpful:
#1: Work on Shorter Pieces
You don’t necessarily have to be fully committed to an idea to write about it. You could simply list a whole bunch of ideas and see if any of them seem like halfway decent contenders.
Understandably, you won’t want to commit hours and hours to an idea that you’ve picked for the sake of having something to write. You might be happy to write a piece of flash fiction, though, or a really short blog post – every word you get down on paper is good practice.
Plus, your idea might end up grabbing you more than you expected: several of my novels and novel-attempts started out as short stories. If you find that exploring your idea helps make it more engaging, you could expand and develop it into a much longer piece.
#2: Enjoy Other People’s Creations
Have you been so busy with your writing that you’ve struggled to find the time or energy to read? When you’re between writing ideas, that’s a great opportunity to enjoy the work of other writers (and artists and musicians).
Immersing yourself in other people’s creativity may well spark ideas of your own. You might lose yourself in a great novel, sink into a piece of beautifully crafted non-fiction, wander around an art gallery, or listen to an album by your favourite musician or band. Keep a notebook handy, just in case anything comes to you.
#3: Take a Writing Course or Class, or Join a Writers’ Group
Whether it’s a two-hour workshop or a weeks-long programme, a writing course or class can be a great way to meet fellow writers, to learn new skills, and to explore new types of writing that you might not otherwise have considered. Just being around other writers, and setting aside time for writing, can help you feel more engaged with your writing life again.
Another great option is to join a writers’ group. Even if you don’t have anything to contribute for critique to begin with, simply reading other people’s work and chatting with other writers about writing could help you feel more inspired. There are plenty of writers groups out there: you could look for a local in-person group or join an online one.
Join Us on Facebook: If you’ve ever bought an Aliventures product (any guide, course, etc that I sell) then you’re automatically entitled to free lifetime membership of the Aliventures Club on Facebook. It’s a private group of writers where you can chat about writing, tell us how you’re getting on, keep us posted on your writing goals, and share work-in-progress.
#4: Explore the Ideas You DO Have
Perhaps you already have a potential idea or two – but you’re holding back. You might feel that you’re not “ready” to tackle a particular idea, but what’s the worst that could happen if you give it a go? Your idea won’t be wasted. Even if you can’t fully do it justice immediately, spending some time exploring it could put you in a better position in the months or years to come.
If you’ve got some half-formed ideas, set aside some focused time to explore them – maybe in your favourite coffee shop. You might find that you come up with a new angle or development that really interests you. Or you might end up going in a whole new direction, sparked by something incidental in the piece that you create.
#5: Try Some Writing Exercises or Prompts
If you’re really stuck for ideas, use someone else’s! There are loads of online resources (and books) that offer writing prompts or exercises to try. Here are a couple to check out:
Set a time limit on how long you’ll write for (maybe five or ten minutes) – even if you don’t want to go any further with that particular piece, everything you write is good practice.
If you’re still stuck for an idea, here are a few generic ones you might want to try:
Ready-Made Ideas for Fiction Writers
- The most recent novel(s) you’ve read. What did you enjoy, or not enjoy, about them? Were there any characters that particularly interested you, or plot points?
- An everyday object used in a sinister way.
- An unusual family tradition (real or imaginary).
- Something that scares you (however irrational the fear).
Ready-Made Ideas for Non-Fiction Writers
- The three things you found most baffling when you were a beginner in your chosen field.
- The technical terms / jargon in your field – you might create a glossary.
- A review of a recent book / talk / podcast / etc in your field – what was good and what was not so good about it? Would you recommend it?
- A controversial topic, or one where people in your field commonly disagree – give both sides of the argument.
Finally – don’t let a lack of ideas get to you. You will have more ideas (and you’re not “unimaginative” or “uncreative”). Give it time, relax, and keep up your writing practice so that you’re ready to go when the next big idea strikes.
I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.
Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.
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