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Finding Inspiration to Write

Writing Prompts

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November 2009
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Many writers are unable to begin the task of writing because they don’t know what to write about. And yet, there are an endless number of ideas and topics that writers can use as inspiration to start the writing process. Each day, something extraordinary occurs that can provide inspiration. It could be a personal experience or something the writer heard or saw. A writer can start with his/her own life or the events or happenings that take place in the neighbourhood or community. Next, the writer can seek out the extraordinary or inspiration in the city. Finally, the writer can discover what is happening around the world. There are also a myriad of techniques that a writer can use to find inspiration to write.

Here are 20 suggestions on how to find ideas, topics, information to write about:

1. Write about your personal experiences. Many poems are poems of witness, based on personal experience. Poets have written poems on a myriad of subjects, including love, depression, suicide, war, terrorism, grief, and more. Most short stories and novels are based on personal experience. Most personal essays and other types of creative nonfiction are based on personal experience. What is important is to write about something that has “moved” or “touched” you, such as the loss of a job, the end of a marriage, illness, death.

2. Keep an idea journal. Use it to record your impressions of the news, entertainment, sports, ordinary, and extraordinary. For instance, after reading the newspaper this morning, I made notes on the Giller Prize, an award that Linden MacIntre, a Canadian writer, won for his fiction novel, The Bishop’s Son, about the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic church. I also wrote about the murder/terrorist attack at Mt. Hood. And I jotted down a few facts about diabetes. When you need an idea for a poem, short story, personal essay, article, essay, reread your idea journal.

3. Read the newspaper, magazines, and books. Read the newspaper each day to find out what is making news, what people are talking about, and to stay informed. Read different types of magazines to expand your knowledge about your favourite topics and interests. Read fiction and nonfiction books. Reading fiction allows you to engage in imaginative thinking and provides you will examples of how others used their imagination to create a work of fiction. Reading nonfiction will provide you with a taste of reality. In short, reading widely and deeply will enable you to discover topics and ideas to write about, expand your vocabulary, show you how to write well.

4. Use writing prompts to find inspiration. There are an endless number of writing prompts that you can use to inspire you to write. For instance, Kim Addonizio in “The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasure of Writing Poetry”, includes several exercises at the end of each chapter to inspire the reader to write a poem. Other useful books that include writing prompts are “Take Ten for Writers”, “Live the Life Poetic”, “The Right to Write”, and “The Artist’s Way.”

5. Write about what you know. Write about your thoughts, feelings, impressions, interests, and experiences. Write about your own life, such as being a teenager, losing a job, getting old. Write about everyday things, such family, work, leisure time, spirituality, the weather, and so on. Write about what you love. Write about what you loathe. Write about good habits. Write about bad habits. Write about what you are indifferent about. Write about what makes you angry, sand, or happy. Write about your memories. Essentially, writing about what you know is a one of the best ways to find inspiration to write.

6. Engage in freewriting. Sit down with a pen and notebook and start writing for 15 minutes without stopping. Write about anything that comes into your mind. Don’t worry about spelling mistakes, sentence fragments, or logic—just write and don’t stop. If you want, write in point form. Or make a list. The key is to write freely. Afterwards, read what you have written. Look for some idea that might inspire you to write about in greater detail.

7. Immerse yourself in popular culture. Watch popular shows on TV, go to the movies, visit an art gallery, attend the museum, visit a comedy club, listen to pop and rock music, and browse the Web. Find out what is the zeitgeist of the current times and then write about it.

8. Write about milestones, anniversaries, special occasion, and holidays. For instance, this summer, many writers wrote about 1969, the year of the moon walk and Woodstock. Recently, newspapers and magazines have published pieces of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Next month, many newspapers and magazines and websites will begin publishing pieces related to Christmas and New Years. Common themes for the holiday season will be “buying the gift for the person that has everything” and “establishing New Year’s Resolutions.”

9. Write about the extraordinary. Since the death of Michael Jackson, there have been a plethora of poems, commentaries, articles, books on the life of times of the King of Pop.

10. Keep a file of things that you find amusing, interesting, or entertaining. Save interesting articles that you have read on the Web. Cut out interesting pieces you have read in the newspaper or magazine, such as an editorial, commentary, feature article. Clip out funny comics, or amusing anecdotes, or entertaining letters to the editor. Save photos that make you happy, or sad, or that inspire you.

11. Write in a creative place. Find a quiet place to write. Adorn your walls with inspirational posters, photographs, and paintings. Collect inspirational objects and place them on your desk. Listen to inspirational music while you write. Build a reference library that includes a dictionary, thesaurus, book of quotes, favourite poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Use your creative space to inspire you to write.

12. Establish the ritual of writing. Get into the habit of writing each day. A good way to start is by keeping a journal. Another habit you can incorporate into your life is to keep a notebook with you at all times. When you see or think of something interesting to write about, jot it down in your notebook. Be sure to set time-based and quantity- based goals. For instance, your goal might be to write one poem this week.

13. Discover ideas by asking the journalistic questions. To learn more about a subject, answer the following questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

14. Engage in creative thinking. Using creative a variety of creative thinking techniques can be a powerful way of finding new ideas to write about. Start with the basics, such as by brainstorming. Learn how to mindmap. Create an outline. Engage in “what if” thinking. Challenge assumptions. Change your perspective. Use your imagination to fantasize.

15. Live a creative life. Do new things. Change your routine. Meet new people. Learn something new. Enrol in a course. Set goals. Take an art course. Snap some photos. Attend a reading. Go hiking. Take a vacation. Live in the moment. Travel to some exotic place. Whatever you choose to do, make sure it is authentic and original and out of the ordinary. After the experience, write about it.

16. Write about taboo subjects. Perhaps you have a secret that you wish to share, such as a family suicide, abusive mother, alcoholic parent. Perhaps you have been the victim of rape or incest. Maybe you have suffered from mental illness, such as anxiety, depression, or Bipolar Disorder. You can use these adverse experiences as inspiration.

17. Write about your dreams. Start by keeping a notebook beside your bed. If you remember a dream when you wake up, jot down the details. Later, analyze your dream. Then write about it.

18. Enrol in a course, take a workshop, attend a writing conference. Immersing yourself in an educational setting will often require you to write. For instance, if you enrol in a poetry writing course. The instructor will usually request  that you write poems on different topics each week or so.

19. Write about issues or topics in the world that concern you. For instance, it might be global warming, the Afghanistan war, the war on terrorism, suicide, poverty, mental illness, abortion, gay rights, crime, euthanasia, unemployment, elderly abuse, and so forth.

20. Establish a blog. Creating a blog provides you with the tool to write and an audience to read your writing. It is a good way to express yourself, write about what you are interested about, and share your expertise with the world. Blogging also helps you get into the habit of writing on a regular basis.

Finding inspiration to write isn’t difficult. The best methods are to write about what you know, write about what interests you, or write about what you are passionate about. You can also use the techniques discussed in this article to uncover ideas and to find inspiration to write.

If you have any comments, please post them to my blog or send me an email.

Next, I will write about humour.


1 Comment

  1. I agree. Get and and live then survive to write about it. I don’t see how anyone could get inspired if they sit and home and soak up pop culture on televison.

    Dr. Tom Bibey

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