By Lucas Beechinor
People get ideas for their writing from the most random things sometimes. From pickles, to wars, to far off places, there’s no telling what could trigger that first thought, sentence, or title of your future story. Sometimes, a few cups of coffee will do the trick. But if you’re chemically dependent on caffeine already (like me) and you need something more, I suggest browsing through the following list . . . after you’ve had some coffee.
People watching. This will be, by far, the creepiest entry on my list (To get even more creepy about it, read this list of instructions before you go out and try it for yourself) It might also be the most dangerous, especially if you end up following some random stranger around the mall or downtown and your subject suddenly realizes they’re being tailed for inspirational purposes . . . Anyway, just go somewhere where lots of people gather, pick out an individual or couple, watch how they interact, and see what happens. You never know. Some great places for people watching: airports, festivals, city parks, and coffeeshops.
Senior Citizens. Uphill both ways in the snow. You’ve probably heard that one before, but what if it was true? Chances are it was somewhere at one time. I am constantly amazed by what the people who came before me experienced. World War II? The Great Depression? The Roaring Twenties? Pick a decade within the last century and find something not worth writing about from it. I dare you. Then find someone who saw it firsthand and chat them up. It might blow your mind.
This could involve conducting a more formal oral interview, or talking to someone who might not be the chattiest of Cathys. If you haven’t done an interview before, I recommend that you familiarize yourself on techniques that can really get some good dialogue flowing.
Bookstores. This is one of my favorites. Talk about mental stimulation. Bookstores are usually more inspirational to me than libraries because in a bookstore, they want you to notice books. Ideas are literally being marketed directly at you. Walk down any aisle and you’re going to get slammed with wonderful visuals, catchy titles, and a heaping pile of ideas. Every book you lay your eyes on is an opportunity for inspiration. Pick one up that catches your eye, read the jacket copy, the back cover, the blurbs, even flip through some of the pages. Get a feel for the author’s voice and compare it with your own. The possibilities are quite endless in a bookstore.
Wikipedia. I recommend this one if you can’t make it to a book store. Or, if you really want to get hardcore, take your laptop into a bookstore, go to the coffee shop, drink coffee, and then log in to Wikipedia. There really is no excuse for not being able to come up with an idea now, is there? Wikipedia is one of the greatest resources for ideas ever in the entire universe. Don’t believe me? Well you’re wrong! What I love about Wikipedia is that each article contains a pretty large collection of links that will take you to other articles. The rabbit holes on this site are virtually bottomless. I’m there right now as I’m typing this, actually. I’m looking at Random House’s article. Hmm, Random House is owned by Bertelsmann AG. Wow, I see here that Bertelsmann’s history goes back to Nazi Germany, and that the company is run by a think tank? There, I just gave you an awesome story idea and you didn’t have to do anything. You’re welcome!
Song lyrics. This is another personal favorite. If you’re a normal human being, listening to music should have a number of impacts on you. How does your favorite song make you feel? How do you interpret the lyrics? What story is it telling you? This morning, I’ve been listening to In My Place by Coldplay, One of Us by Joan Osborne, and Glycerine by Bush. What are your favorite lyrics? Google search a copy of them, read them, and see what you come up with.
Film scores. Since we’re already on the subject of music . . . Cheri likes to listen to film scores when she’s writing, and I’m finding that I do too. For me, a film score can provide the perfect background music to whatever I’m thinking about and helps me visualize the structure and characters that should make up a section of a story. You’ve probably heard about how certain types of music are actually pretty healthy for your brain. Well, it’s true! What’s your favorite movie? What’s the music like in it? What kind of music would you want in your story? Something epic? Something a little more lighthearted? Or something exotic?
Travel. There’s nothing like a change of scenery to get you thinking on what to write about, and I find that it’s often difficult to concentrate in a place where you usually like to get comfortable. Get out and explore! If you can afford it, take a trip to a place with some geographical and/or cultural features that you think might be interesting. Or, if you don’t have the time or funding, just go to the park. Hike through the woods. Drive to the coast. Climb up a mountain. Camp out for a couple days. Go somewhere that takes you beyond your usual commute. Cheri and I are lucky enough to live near the Oregon Coast. Talk about inspiration. Seeing a large body of water or a mountain stabbing up into the sky is almost always a guaranteed inspiration for me.
Dreams. Dreams are awesome when it comes to getting some inspiration. For me, dreams are almost like freebies, if you’re lucky enough to be able to remember them. Here’s a cool web page with some frequently asked questions about the effects of dreams. There are a lot of things that can affect what you dream about, and some big ones are emotions and physical activities. I find that I usually have pretty vivid dreams when I’m anticipating exciting changes or events in my life, like graduating, getting married, moving, etc. I also try to experiment with how to get myself dreaming, like reading one of my favorite books as I’m in that anticipating mood.
So, now that you know some of the things that inspire us, tell us what inspires you!
Great post. People watching works. I love it…I don’t live right in the city but I love it there because I always pick up an idea for a story or just a character…downtown, everything’s so diverse. People are just amazing.
Thanks for stopping by, Brayden! I completely agree. I love people watching too. I mainly use it to study gestures, behavioral ticks, and facial expressions. I learn something new every time I take the time to slow down and just watch what people do and say.