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Idea Starters: Lo-Jack and High Tech

We’ve talked about many ways to use idea starters. Most of the time they don’t need to be based on fancy systems with lots of features. It just takes old school, go-to tools that you can pull out any old time. You don’t need to have bells, whistles, or tricks to make a story idea come to life. But it can be fun to use apps and tech toys to generate story ideas to push the envelope. What you use depends on how you like to work. If you get stuck using one method to start your ideas, switch over and use another. It really doesn’t matter what road map you use to bring your writing to life. What matters is finding a few ways that work for you.

Old School Exercises

My very first essay teacher gave us an idea starter exercise that I still use today. She says that when you can’t think of anything, just write down “I remember,” and go from there.  For me, this simple advice works every time.

We can always remember something. The exercise is a real journey. I have used this to explore every aspect of my life. If I want to do a food essay, but don’t know where I want to go with it, I start with the “I remember” exercise, and let my mind float to my grandmother’s kitchen and riff from there.

If you write memoir or essay think about other triggers like:

•    What would you tell your 20-year-old self?
•    The thing you never told anybody but …
•    The best day of your life …
•    The worst day of your life …
•    Something you thought would make you happy but it didn’t.
•    Gratitude, and what you are grateful for.
•    Facing your fears.

Novelists and short story writers can benefit from these triggers as well. Triggering memories in this way seems to free up the creative process.

Online Story Starters

With the tools I use, I almost never run out of ideas. But several of my colleagues have raved about apps that help charge up the idea mill. I tried a few and actually got some good new ideas. But don’t get so carried away with digital idea generation that you don’t actually write anything. If you’re not careful, you can get sucked down the fun rabbit hole. Fiction writers usually use these tools but it can give your nonfiction a jumpstart, too. Here are a few computer tools that can serve as your idea starters:

Seventh Sanctum is a hub of story idea generators, depending on what you are trying to do. There is a romance plot idea starter, and other story idea and writing challenges.

Portent is a content idea generator specifically for writers and bloggers. It is a great way to play with your nonfiction story ideas. You type in your little glimmer of a subject and it creates a little writer magic. After you get a title and subject there are links to strategies to approach the writing.

Voltamps Reactive
has lots of how-tos in five steps. This link leads you to How To Create A Plot From Nothing In 5 Steps.

Take to Social Media

If you are addicted to social media anyway, there is nothing like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest to spark an idea. I go on to see what people are talking about and what they are going through. As you know, people really do share a lot about their lives and interests within the confines of social media. Just do what I do and ask, “Does this interests me?” Ask how you would approach the story and who you would talk to. Then, talk to friends on social media and ask them if they would be willing to talk. While it may seem intrusive at first, you’d be surprised what your social media tribe will tell you if you just ask. People love to talk.

I often use my social media to get recommendations on writing tools, including apps and tools that other writers and creatives are using to start a spark in their idea gathering process.

Many journalists and authors not only use social media to push out their ideas, or to hype a new project. They are engaging their readers in deep discussion. Opening your ideas to different perspectives is one of the great benefits of social media.

There is no shortage of ideas you can mine for your next writing project. Be open to the possibilities and breathe. The worst enemy of idea starters is stressing out about when they will show up. The best ideas never seem to come when we are stressed about not having a perfect home run story. Remember that the idea is just the beginning. The real work and success of writing comes when you put words on the page, go down the winding road to see where it takes you, and then shape it through revision.


Andrea King Collier is an award-winning journalist and author. She writes for leading print, online and broadcast outlets. She is the author of The Black Woman’s Guide to Black Men’s Health, and Still With Me… A Daughter’s Journey of Love and Loss. She is also an in-demand writing teacher and coach.


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