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The Hunt for Good Ideas
Last week, we talked about having a system in place to keep your ideas organized, now it’s time to dig deep into where you find them. Sometimes the best ideas show up when you don’t expect them. But there will be other times that you just have to go on an exploration to find ideas that excite you. And know that not every idea you start with will see the finish line. It isn’t unusual to get so excited about an idea, but a day later when you sit down to write, it might not be the one you really want to pursue. The good news is that if you make idea starters a priority, you can afford to explore another idea that excites you more.
Get Out of the House
Writing can be an isolating pursuit. Spending hours upon hours looking at your computer screen at your desk can be an idea buzz killer. Pack up your stuff and go to the bookstore, the coffee shop, or just go outside for a walk. There is something about moving your location that shakes up the idea antenna. Watch people. Listen to what they have to say and how they say it. Engage. The world is so much wider, if you make yourself get out of your element. All you need is wifi, if you are researching, or if you want to unplug, go anywhere.
Ask the Questions, Big and Small
Some of my best and salable article ideas have come from questions I have in my own life and my community. I am not alone. Everything is fodder for a story, no matter what you write. Say you are looking for the best summer writing retreat for yourself. Take those questions and turn that into a story idea about how to decide where to go for an educational experience, based on your interests. Or maybe you want to know how people get accepted in the top retreats. Ask the question and write about it. Or let’s say you write fiction. You may have a great story idea for a novel or a short story with a backdrop of the stress and drama of being in a competitive writing program, or artist colony.
As a person who writes about health and health policy often, one story often leads to several other story ideas. If I have an assignment about heart disease in men, I want to know how it impacts women, and maybe young women. And when I had a health scare recently it gave me several ideas about stories I want to do on heart disease over the next year.
Check out the sites of the organizations you are interested in. They offer lots of inspiration for your research. For my heart disease story, I went to the American Heart Association, but there are thousands of associations in all categories that can feed your idea starter.
Be a Reader
Read everything. Don’t think that you need to close yourself off from inspirations when you are writing. One thing I have done since I started writing for publication is buy magazines. Once a month, when the new magazines come out at my local book store and I buy a big bag of them based on what interests me at the time. I have a monthly magazine budget—really. I probably spend $40 a month, which may seem huge but I am probably generating thousands of dollars of salable ideas from that little investment.
But here’s the thing. You might be tempted to just go to the library and look at the magazines and take notes. I tend to buy them because I like to sit in the middle of the floor of my home office with a cup of coffee and tear the pages out that inspire me or that have sparked an idea. Libraries don’t love it when you tear up their magazines, so I buy them and mark them up as I see fit. I take all my ideas and put them in an inspiration folder. I still review folders that go back several years. I just sold an article based on a picture in that folder. I also have several magazine subscriptions that I have through an app, and I review them for inspiration, too.
Make it a point to read newspapers, journal, and blogs, too. They are great idea starters for the curious writer. I also spend a great deal of time looking at all forms of news media in January, because this is the time that they lay out trends that the public might be following throughout the year.
News is a powerful tool, no matter what you write.
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.