Here Are Some (Not So) Secret Tips To Coming Up With More Writing Ideas

Writing Ideas Shh - Kristina Flour

Ah, the mystical topic of writing ideas. Where do they come from?

Are they really messages from the universe, ones that we pass through us like radio waves through receivers? Are they the products of our muse, spiritual beings who bestow us with their gifts at their whim and fancy? Or do we simply think our ideas into reality?

Nobody knows, really.

You have people like Stephen Pressfield who claim that it’s simply a product of showing up, while the likes of Neil Gaiman says that he just makes them up in his head.

And all that’s fine and dandy, but that doesn’t change the fact that your weekly blog post is due tomorrow, and you still have no idea what to write about.

Well, fret not, young grasshopper, because we’re going to explore this, um, idea, right now!

Figuring out the what of writing ideas

First of all, what are ideas?

To be honest, I don’t know. But I do know that you know what the following feels like: There you are, on your daily walk, and you notice someone trying to drag their dog across the road.

Then a thought hits you: What if dogs walked humans instead? Certainly, some pet owners need the exercise more than their furry friends? Then you go home and churn out a 2,000-word article titled ’10 (Not So) Secret Benefits To Owning A Dog’.

“I had an idea for a science-fiction novel called Avalon. I started work on it and it was going pretty good, when suddenly it just came to me, this scene, from what would ultimately be the first chapter of A Game of Thrones.”

George RR Martin

Okay so maybe that was a terrible example. But you get the point—ideas aren’t easily quantifiable, and they sure as hell aren’t reliably replicable.

In fact, in the few minutes it took you to read up to this point, you’d probably generated a dozen ideas that you just didn’t care to sieve through. And that’s our first order of idea generation—knowing when they come a-knocking.

A mirror in sharp focus against a blurry background

Sometimes it takes a little focus to capture the tons of ideas flitting in our mind. Photo: Andrew Rodriguez

How I get my writing ideas

Sad to say, I don’t have a checklist that guarantees extra ideas. One, because we’re all different, and two, because I ain’t a self-help guru.

But you can learn to increase your chances of realising your thoughts, to be more attuned to the inner workings of your mind, and through that, catch the ideas as they come.

Me, personally, I have a few key moments in my day where the ideas flow more freely, so perhaps keeping an eye out during these moments would benefit you as well.

“I’d love to tell you that I had some big, brainy epiphany, but here’s the unglamorous truth: I had a boring on-campus desk job during college, and I made up aliens to pass the time.”

Becky Chambers

1. During or after exercise

This one’s pretty consistent. I get my best ideas when I’m out on my runs, annoyingly enough when I can’t record them down. There’s just something about physical exertion that sends me deeper into the self.

It’s no wonder, then, that in his book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami stated how “being active every day makes it easier to hear that inner voice.”

Maybe it’s the endorphins, because the accompanying optimism does make lame ideas seem more appealing. So listen to your thoughts during and after your workouts and see what happens.

2. Showering

Cliche, but true. There’s just something about routine tasks that encourages my mind to wander. I could be stuck at a certain chapter in my novel, and somewhere between shampooing my hair and washing my tummy will the solution emerge.

Again, it irks me to no end that this is also when I can’t record down my ideas, so I resort to repeating the thoughts over and over, only to forget them later.

3. Meditation

You know that feeling when you just wake up, fresh out of a dream? You know how you can be lucid, yet still see images swirling behind your eyelids? I sometimes get that during meditation, and they do allow me to see things that I wouldn’t otherwise have.

And the weirdest part is that most of the ideas here tend to want to stay within this realm. It’s just like dreaming. You think you’ll remember everything, but the only thing that remains upon waking is a vague emotion or idea.

4. Morning pages

I’ve always sworn by morning pages, and not in a woo-woo way either. Besides being a good place to vent, morning pages also help you work out the thoughts in your head, like a massage therapist kneading away the knots in your muscles.

For instance, just yesterday I was questioning commitment to writing, when my subconscious decided to have a conversation with me. Here’s what it looked like:

I’ve been slacking with my writing recently. Why do I keep avoiding it? Maybe it’s because you’re looking at it as if it’s a chore to be completed. Why not think of it as a session to enjoy, just like how you treat your other hobbies? You don’t ‘struggle’ through video games, do you?

And thus the idea for this post was born.

5. Consuming others’ works

Just because you’re on the hunt for writing ideas doesn’t mean you need to limit yourself to reading. Other mediums can teach you a lot too.

I was watching Better Call Saul last week, and I realised how the characters would attempt a solution before being forced to do so. So somebody might purchase a gun, but decide against using it, until a life-or-death situation forces them to go ahead with their original intentions.

That’s so much better than simply purchasing a gun and using it to solve a problem.

Here’s another example, but with reading. After reading House Of Suns, I now have a totally different perspective on immortality and space travel, all fodder that I can use in my future works.

It also goes without saying that YouTube is a great source for writing ideas. I’ve watched everyone from Buddhist monks to ex-convicts and their different viewpoints do help me approach stories from different angles.

A woman reading a book on her couch

Sometimes we need to fill our well. Photo: Matias North

6. Actually working on the story

It’s weird how I can start a blog post with one outline, then end up with a totally different product once I’m done writing. It’s almost as if the act of writing itself helps me generate different ideas as I go.

Just like playing a sport, the decisions you make based on how the play is unfolding might diverge from your original plans, and sometimes it’s all about making said adjustments.

And that should be a comfort to you. Just know that the blank page can also be your source for writing ideas. You just need to be brave enough to wade through the wasteland of blinking cursors and crappy first words.

7. Crowdsourcing

Sites like Quora, Reddit, and even other content creators’ comments section are a great place to learn what people are talking about in your niche. Sometimes you’ll even come across questions that you’ll have the answers to—that’s idea city right there.

Of course, you’ll have to be knowledgable enough to know where your audience hangs out. At the very least, you should know things like which subreddits to visit.

This works best for when you want to pad up your article, and you have no idea what else to include. Simply browse a forum, check out their pain points, and voila.

“Inspiration comes from all over. Often things I see. The mist in Mistborn came from driving through a foggy night. Sazed came from a Buddhist monk I met in Korea. Sarene came from a friend, Annie, who complained that she was too tall and too smart for men to want to date.”

Brandon Sanderson

How you can practise the art of idea-making

Okay so maybe my methods could be too personal. Maybe you want to train your own mind to come up with more ideas. Well I’ve got you covered. Here are some drills you could use to get started with your enhanced ideation.

1. Get used to being bored

The fact that we’re losing our ability to feel bored is a telling sign of our future, but since the internet is a fairly new phenomenon, there’s very little I can tell you about this. But authors like Neil Gaiman have used the ‘write or do nothing’ method pretty effectively, which is why I’d suggest you to do the same and start making friends with boredom.

So the next time you feel the impulse to reach for your phone, stop and consider why. Do you have important work to do? Or are you just curious about the latest Instagram updates since you’d last checked—seventeen minutes ago?

I myself have taken too moodling, which is simply sitting down with pen and paper and doing absolutely nothing. If I want to write, I do. If not, I don’t. But I just sit there. Doing nothing. For half an hour. At least.

Try it. The results may surprise you.

A bored blond woman resting her hand on her hand

I’m actually warming up to the role boredom plays in creativity. Photo: Sharon McCutcheon

2. Just generate ideas

I’ve mentioned James Altucher’s technique of generating ideas before and I’ll mention it again. He recommends that you try and generate ten ideas a day. What ideas? It’s up to you. Ten ideas for articles. Ten ways to cook your favourite omelette. Ten outfits you can match with your new pair of shoes.

The idea (heh) here is to just do it. To not be bound by perfectionism, or even the need for the ideas to be executable. After all, you get better at free throws by actually practising free throws, right?

3. Practise mindfulness

The thing about mindfulness is that it can exist in many forms. Running is a form of mindfulness for me, because at no other time does my mind focus all its efforts into realising one sole goal—to not die (I’m a drama queen I know).

You could pick up sketching. Or maintain a commonplace book. Or people-watch. Anything that takes you away from the mindless killing of time. The more you practise, the better you’ll get at being present, which also means observing your thoughts.

And who knows which one of those thoughts could be your next big idea?

“Ideas seem to come by themselves, unbidden. They seem to come in off-moments. They appear when the brain is turned off. For me that’s when I’m half asleep, pre-dawn or tossing in the middle of the night; when I’m in the shower or shaving, or driving on the freeway.”

Steven Pressfield

Forget productivity when it comes to ideas

If you dive deep enough down the idea-generating rabbit hole, you’ll start to notice a pattern, and that’s the relationship between idleness and creativity.

For instance, hypnagogia—the state between wakefulness and sleep—is known to have played a role in the creative pursuits of the greats such as Salvador Dali and Thomas Edison.

In these states, symptoms like the aforementioned swirling images behind your eyelids are a common occurrence, and people actually traverse the gap between nap times and wakefulness to enter this state.

My personal way of achieving this is through meditation.

“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.”

Neil Gaiman

What does this mean for you?

Well, you could take it as a reminder to do nothing so you can do something. To rest in order to work. To not feel guilty when you’re not aboard the productivity train 24/7.

Because while there’s a certain pride that comes from charging full steam throughout your day, you should also know that different modes of functioning exists. And when it comes to creativity, you’d do well to give yourself some space.

A woman chilling on a hammock next to a lake

Sometimes rest IS work. Photo: Priscilla Du Preez

You still have to write

Getting better at generating writing ideas may sound like an awesome skill, but it’s only one part of the equation. The other—and perhaps more important—part is actually doing the work.

Getting that swanky new idea doesn’t mean you can turn off your creative mind and call it a day. And I know you didn’t read this entire post just for me to reach the following observation, but there’s really no avoiding this: At the end of the day, what’s most important is that you just write.

So take what you want from this post, and discard what doesn’t help. But remember, your ideas aren’t going to write themselves.

“In all seriousness, people think that it’s the ideas that are important. Well, everyone has ideas, all the time. I write mine down and remember them, but at some point you have to apply the bum to the seat and knock out about sixty-five thousand words — that’s how long a novel is.”

Terry Pratchett

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80 thoughts on “Here Are Some (Not So) Secret Tips To Coming Up With More Writing Ideas

    • The worst part is not having something to record your thoughts when you’re outside, especially when doing your activity of choice. Sometimes those ideas just disappear as soon as we get them, and all we remember is the fact that we HAD an idea, lol. But yeah, walking is amazing too! I get so many ideas when walking the dog. Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  1. Seriously more awesome tips, I love your articles…now I gotta go try to write my own article! If I comment on even more posts you will know I have not succeeded and have slipped further down the rabbit hole of reading articles!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lol, oh no. Inspiring you to write is one of the best things ever. But then sending you down a rabbit hole isn’t. Now I feel guilty :P

      Here’s to continuing writing, and thanks so much for making my day with your presence!

      Like

  2. And here I was worried that maybe I wasn’t a writer after all because just this morning I was wondering why I can’t just make up characters on the spot, or why aren’t stories just “in my head.” Excellent points you made!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lol, oh how I wish ideas were just things in my head that I just needed to transcribe. It’s almost as if the imagining itself takes energy, one that my body doesn’t have enough of. Thanks for your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I really liked this article. I have often found myself just sitting there thinking about writing, “being bored” as you put it. I never really thought of it quite like this but you really described exactly what I’m doing in those moments.

    I also find that I make a list of writing ideas. I go back to that list and pick ones that my mood is most receptive to and try to write an outline for it. Not all ideas I end up liking or outlines that are done very well. However, some on my favorite articles started this way.

    Thanks again for the article!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lol, and don’t forget the part where you write an entire piece, only to discover that you prefer taking a whole other tangent, but you can only come to that conclusion by writing an entire article first.

      I kinda like it when that happens, despite the extra work. Anyway, thanks so much for sharing your perspective, Melanie! Totally appreciate it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Okay, why is it that the best ideas always come when I am in the shower or just about to fall into a deep sleep after TRYING to fall asleep for ages… lol but yes, those are generally where my best ideas come to me.. and I do my best to jot them down… I also find that I often can’t just write one or two words about an idea.. I need to write the general idea, break it down, write a sentence or two to inspire more writing later on if I can’t write then and there (which is usually the case as I don’t often have immediate time). I have a word doc of just floating ideas and when I can’t think of anything to write on Tuesday night, I will open that word doc and see if anything flows through me… usually with a lot of hope and prayer, it comes eventually LOL…

    Liked by 1 person

    • You know what I’m starting to think? It’s that these ideas are just the universe trying to test you, to see how dedicated you are in capturing them, lol. That’s why they only give you ideas when you’re most inconvenienced.

      And I envy you for writing down detailed thoughts, because smart ol’ me will think I’ll be able to make sense of my notes, then a week passes and I look back at the word ‘cataclysm exercise’ and I wonder what the heck the idea was.

      Thanks so much for sharing how you do things. It’s super interesting to know!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Here Are Some (Not So) Secret Tips To Coming Up With More Writing Ideas – Beautiful You

  6. Interesting that you mention meditation/mindfulness as way of generating ideas. I use the Calm app to do 10 min meditations occasionally and yesterday’s ‘Daily Calm’ talked about how the act of clearing one’s mind during meditation can increase creativity.
    Wishing you many brilliant ideas!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Weirdly enough, I feel that meditating does take me into a dreamlike state sometimes, and that I get so many ideas during my sessions. The downside is that those ideas seem to stay in that world, as I totally forget everything once I’m done (also not unlike the dream state).

      Thanks so much for visiting, Sally. I’m so happy that you decided to stop by!

      Like

  7. Pingback: Here Are Some (Not So) Secret Tips To Coming Up With More Writing Ideas – ZenStateOfMindWriter

  8. My favourite time for ideas used to be when walking, and I generally managed to remember them so I could jot them down when back at home. These days, the memory is overcrowded by advancing years, so that no longer works. I keep a small notepad in each room, with a dedicated pen, and jot them down as they occur. Then, from time to time, I transfer those few lines to a Word doc. That’s now running to 30 single-spaced pages! I doubt I’ll live long enough to convert them all into stories, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow that’s amazing. The only place I have a notepad with a dedicated pencil (no need to fumble for clickers or caps, or worry about ink issues) is beside my bed, for those mid-dream ideas. I rarely understand what I write once I wake up though, since the terms only make sense to my half-sleepy self. Thanks so much for stopping by, Stuart!

      Like

      • Ah, those half asleep notes; I used to have one of those magical pens incorporating its own torch so I could write the odd notes without disturbing my wife. Of course, the torch element quickly died, so these days I rise carefully and make a quick note in my study, the room next door!

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  9. This is a great compilation of ideas on ideas! I definitely fall into the category of sitting down to write one thing and the writing taking over and going somewhere else. I will be paying more attention to when ideas tend to flow in my day. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s interesting sometimes to see how our work evolves as we work on it. I myself benefit from laying everything out on the page first, then slowly moulding it into something totally different. But my process changes from piece to piece, oddly enough. Anyway, thanks so much for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for this, lots of helpful stuff here. This bit in particular rang true for me: ‘You just need to be brave enough to wade through the wasteland of blinking cursors and crappy first words.’ If I can get through that bit I usually find the writing flows after a few minutes.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh yeah, that’s what I’ve realised is true for me too. Everything from going for a run to washing the bathroom only sucks until I get started. Then my body and mind start accepting that we’re doing it, and it’s all cruising from there. Great point. Thanks for sharing!

      Like

  11. Really great post. I especially like what you said about shifting perspective as a result of consuming the work of others. I do have to say that for me, my inspiration will often come at the least convenient of times, especially in the middle of the night. I think our ideas thrive when the rest of our minds are left to cool, and often–unfortunately–that’s not when we’re at the computer.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ha! I have a notepad and pencil beside my bed for that exact purpose. And my scribbles made in the dark always make sense to me too. I always think I can decipher my notes in the morning, but then I wake up and see words like ‘butterfly knife’ or ‘ametonic exercise’ and wonder wtf I was doing.

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  12. These are some great tips. I know it SOUNDS cliche but ideas really do come to you in the shower. It must be something to do with all the external stimulation (like people talking, phones, TV’s etc) being taken away for a time and you being just left with your thoughts.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hahaha yeah that’s a super cliche indeed, but it’s also true! In fact, I think I should start using it as a technique—every time I’m stumped I should just go bathe. Would be the cleanest I’ll ever be in my life though :P

      Great to have you here, Jenny!

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  13. Such a thought provoking post Stuart! I agree with how mindfulness (in your case running) can help spark those creative juices (as you are so in touch with your inner voice and away from all those distractions).

    Sometimes it just happens out of the blue for me and I’m like “ok I’m going to write a little article here” . If I just post without thinking too much about it then I’m not doubting myself and I’m more in the moment. Thank you for sharing another great article here Stuart 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Out of the blue ideas are what make me feel that we’re simply the vessels that are capturing the thoughts from the universe—and we’re learning to listen. And mindfulness definitely helps with that. Thanks so much for your lovely comment, Bernie! I appreciate it!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I definitely need to get used to being bored. Often times I find myself scrolling through social media, not knowing why I’m scrolling through social media. Next thing I know, I’m down the TikTok rabbit hole and one hour has passed by. But now I could aim to spend that hour writing (or not writing) instead. A lovely read as always—thanks for your post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Gah, it’s reached a point where I feel that playing video games will benefit me more than browsing social media. At least my attention will be spent on one thing, instead of the bombardment that comes with scrolling through Instagram. Here’s to getting over that danged habit!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Spontaneous idea for laughs and giggles.
    The garbage man just drove by making his rounds in the neighbourhood.
    My neighbours sometimes greet the garbage man at the curb for a chat.
    I see them from my window, what could they be talking about?
    Is the garbage man like going to your barber for community gossip?
    Wait, I have a title “The Garbage Man Chronicles”.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Lolol this is exactly how some of my ideas come about too. I’d just look at somebody and wonder why they’re doing what they’re doing, and if there’s a story behind that. Or I make one up. Like, why is that lady in the supermarket peeling through the garlic before putting it in her bag? Does she save thousands each year doing that, which she donates to an orphanage? What did that worker slip to his friend? Is there a secret selling network among immigrants who work at the supermarket? So many ideas, so little time, lol.

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  16. This part got me today: “…YouTube is a great source for writing ideas. I’ve watched everyone from Buddhist monks to ex-convicts and their different viewpoints do help me approach stories from different angles.” Reminded me what a coach once told me — that writers need to read broadly. Guess it’s the same with viewing too. Thanks again man! Another post to bookmark and revisit the next time my well runneth dry!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Lol, funny you should mention reading broadly, because I just started reading romance novels for that exact purpose. Still not my cup of tea, but I do get to see how people do things in different genres. And yeah, I love how said monk versus ex-convict can sometimes have the same values, even through their wildly different circumstances. Thanks for stopping by as always, Kelvin!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I don’t know what it is about exercise, but that seems to be when I come up with some of my best ideas. Perhaps it’s as simple as not wanting to think how many more miles I have left to do on the elliptical. I walk several times a week. I enjoy walking with friends to enjoy their company, but I also enjoy walking alone as this seems to be a win-win in terms of exercising and formulating ideas.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh yeah! Exercise does generate the ideas, but running is where it’s at, because like you said, maybe the mind’s just seeking an out.

      I can’t imagine walking with friends, because I do like the monotony of left-leg-right-leg, and I want to enjoy that alone.

      Intense exercise routines do help, but the ideas only flow once I’m done with the workout.

      By the way, thanks so much for stopping by, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I love observing! People-watching was a fun thing for me pre-pandemic (I’d wear headphones without having music playing, just to fly under the radar while listening to the conversations around me—hey, it’s not eavesdropping if you’re talking loud enough for everyone to hear amiriteeee).

      Consumption helps too. I love visual movies for this, particularly in the cyberpunk genre. Anyway, thanks for stopping by as always, Jim!

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Thank you! As someone who’s really been struggling with self-deprecation and writer’s block, this will be very helpful. To begin with, I had not heard of “Morning Pages” and will try to incorporate the concept into my days. I also love your advice about giving one’s self some space. Sometimes if I am disappointed in my own lack of productivity, I fall into a rabbit hole of endless unproductivity. Allowing “space” in our own expectations seems to be a good way to avoid that endless trap.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh yeah, and regarding that downward spiral of unproductiveness—I like to segment my day into four parts, so that if I’ve failed my morning routine, for instance, I still have three other sections of the day to make the best of. That works much better than throwing the entire day away just because of a couple bad choices. Wishing you all the best with start your morning pages practice!

      Liked by 1 person

  19. These are some amazing tips! I always get the best ideas while exercising or in the shower. Sometimes I’ll be writing on my phone while I’m on the treadmill! I like the sound of generating ten ideas per day. I’ll definitely use that! Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Writing on the phone while on the treadmill is on another level indeed. Do let me know if Altucher’s method does help you build your idea muscles (though its subjectivity may be harder to quantify)!

      And thanks for stopping by :)

      Like

  20. Great Article. Not to toot my own horn here, but I’ve noticed that it is hard to come up with new ideas when you’re mentally and physically tired.

    About the boredom: I’m thinking of doing an experiment, where one Sunday of each month, I’ll stay away from internet. I won’t watch anything, won’t read anything, and I already don’t write on Sundays. And then talk about it in a blog post.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh yeah, fatigue makes cowards out of us all in the end, right?

      Eh, that’s a wonderful idea, and I’m hoping you share the results with us! I myself have been thinking of cutting down drastically on electronics, not for blogging, but just to claim back all the time I’m wasting on social media. Anyway, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Another great and helpful post Stuart. Besides paying attention to the thoughts cruising through the old noggin when I’m pumping out a great workout, I sorta like the idea of letting myself get bored. Boredom! What a concept! Can I sit quietly in front of my computer for 30 minutes, not grabbing my phone because of the boring silence in my brain? We’ll see….but I’m willing to try and see what happens!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve been trying so hard, I tell you. But my hand always defaults to the phone. My other solution is to leave it in the next room. And I definitely feel a difference in my stream of thoughts when I don’t scatter my focus so much, attention residue and all that. Let me know how your own electronics restrictions go!

      Like

  22. I often get writing ideas at the most odd moments.
    When I’m with nature, in the shower😅 or just walking down a busy street. Some other times, it takes conscious effort.
    Really nice one, Stuart. I really enjoyed.😊

    Liked by 2 people

    • The ‘odd moments’ ones are always the best, though it’s common to not have anything to record down your thoughts during said moments too, such as the shower, lol.

      I used to think I could remember said ideas. Then five minutes would pass and all I’ll remember is having an idea, but not knowing what it was.

      Anyway, I appreciate you always stopping by, Joanne!

      Like

  23. Excellent post Stuart. Being mindful allows in writing ideas, similar to how George R.R. Martin began writing ASOIAF. He mindfully began writing but spotted the first scene, immediately, in his mind. Everything clicks with mindfulness. We just need to allow in the writing ideas. Of course, this process feels uncomfortable at times because feeling the fears blocking ideas gets intense.

    Ryan

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