Rooting Around For Ideas

by Randy Murray on November 8, 2010

“Where do you get ideas to write about?”

Every writer is asked this question. A few actually know the answer. What I can do is tell you how I get mine. I have no idea if this approach will work for you.

When I sit down to plan out the next week’s posts, I first look into my notes for topics I’ve jotted down. Sometimes an idea I’ve had in the past is now ready, but others stay there for weeks and months before I decide not to bother with them. A richer source of ideas is my general notes, observations, and journal entries. These are ideas in the raw, not something that I’ve intentionally set out as a blog post. They are often my best sources and sparks.

It’s not always easy. Most weeks start out with me laying out the days of the week, starting at Friday – I know I’ll want a Writing Assignment for the end of the week. If I’m drawing a blank I’ll temporarily place in some of my other series as a placeholder: a piece on the Spend Nothing Game, a Simple Productivity Task Of The Day, maybe a product review. Starting series and seeing how people react to them can offer you a theme to return to. But most productive are the things that have gotten me excited, angry, or intrigued over the past few days or weeks.

This is why you need to keep a writer’s notebook. When something interests or stimulates you in some way, write it down. I like Twitter a lot, but if you blow off all of your steam in tweets, what will you have left to power your writing projects? Keep a notebook or something to write on at all times and make a practice of writing down everything. Don’t worry about what it’s for. It’s for you.

When I look in my notebook, I find that even if I don’t find an idea that I want to write about at that specific moment, other things pop into my head. The act of rooting around, testing ideas and thoughts, brings out more. And if you make it a regular practice, as I do, you’ll find that you don’t have a problem coming up with enough ideas for your posts — you’ll end up with far too many things to write about.

I’ll also add this: when I received my graduate degree, a freshly minted MFA in playwrighting, I was very dissatisfied with my own writing. I had produced some good stuff and at least one very solid play, but most of my writing seemed hollow and all surface to me. I’d test ideas and characters and when I’d look at them again it all seemed flat. Instead of giving up writing I decided to keep writing, but also get busy living. And I’ve found over the years that the ideas flow; they’re unstoppable. And the combination of skills and having covered more territory in life makes my writing richer and more interesting.

I’m not saying that if you’re young you can’t write. I’m just saying not to give up.

The Rooting Around For Ideas by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Ramm November 10, 2010 at 9:18 am

Excellent post, Randy. I need to section off one of my notebooks just for writing so that I can start to feel more confident in the words that I put down.


Randy Murray November 10, 2010 at 9:29 am

I do just that - I typically use Post-It tabs to make sections - one for my current project (usually about 50% of the front of the book), then one for client notes, and another for just stuff.

But don’t worry too much over what you put down. Just get things down. Even the notes that don’t make sense later might help you fire off an idea. For instance, today I noticed I wrote down a single word in my notes sometime in the recent past: “Blatancy.” I have no idea what I meant, but it’s got the gears turning.

Don’t censor yourself. Just write down stuff!


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