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People always ask writers where we get our ideas. Our answers are varied—conversations, song lyrics, witnessing an interaction between strangers on a bus, the particular shape and color of a piece of fresh fruit in a loved one’s hands, an old TV show barely remembered.
Life is full of sources of inspiration and tapping into that inspiration can take your writing to a new level. Those little punches of inspiration are wonderful when they happen by accident, when they just appear in a flash of brilliance and send us scurrying for a notepad or computer to get it down before it disappears.
But what if you don’t want to wait for the fickle muse of inspiration to strike at random? No problem! There are ways to find inspiration in your daily life when you aren’t willing to leave it to chance.
Writing Generates Ideas
Maya Angelou wrote:
What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat,’.... And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’
This approach to finding inspiration is simple: sit down and pound out words, even if they aren’t brilliant. You use the work itself as a way to give your inspiration a place to flow.
Some writers use morning pages, or daily journaling to work their way to idea generation. A daily practice of writing down your thoughts, even if they’re nonsensical, or sleep-jumbled, can help spark the creative impulse. Many times, when I go back to re-read my morning pages, what had seemed a mess of incoherent thoughts at the time actually reveal fragments of short stories or insights into the characters in my novel-in-progress.
Look Around You
Writing can and should involve the practice of living—or more importantly, noticing. Certain things around us spark ideas because they stand out or are unusual. Unusually beautiful, or poignant, or unusually weird. But mundane things can also generate ideas if we reframe the way we look at them.
One of my favorite ways to train myself to notice things is to take a walk and ask myself questions. What am I seeing? What am I smelling? What are ten things I can hear right now? Sometimes, I’ll look around and make a list of activities occurring at that moment. This can be as simple as two people shaking hands or a bee buzzing around someone’s bright orange hat. What color shirt is the person standing in line in front of you wearing? What did that man just say to the cashier at the bank?
There are stories in people, stories in nature, stories in the way we experience things. Cultivate a curiosity about the world around you. Ask why. Why is that person staring at their phone? Maybe they’re looking at a map to go to a place they’ve never been before. Maybe their life is about to change the moment they find that place. What are they thinking, what are they feeling, what are they wearing? Why? Curiosity leads to questions and questions can lead you down paths to stories. With a combination of imagination and observation, you can turn the world into a never-ending source of writing inspiration.
The more you pay attention to everything around you, the more you’ll engage your sense. And by engaging these senses, you’ll retrain your brain to pick up on small details—details that can enrich your writing and generate ideas when you’re feeling stuck.
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