The blank page really is no excuse. There are so many ideas that can inspire the writer to action – this post simply looks at some of the ways you can generate topic ideas for your writing. There are simply no excuses any more for the non-fiction writer with so much going on in this planet, and everything (well almost everything) being visible it almost seems impossible to be devoid of an idea or two to write about, yet there are many writers that seem to come to a dead-end every time they open the virtual page.
Never run out of Topic Ideas
- Adding notes to Evernote any-time I think of something that needs saying
- Paying attention to the headlines on the Web
- Looking at the thoughts others have (social sites etc.)
- Asking others for Feedback on ideas
- Diving into the free newspapers
Before looking at each of these in turn I believe it important for a serious writer to make themselves a schedule of their forthcoming work. Marilyn Davis has done this by setting out her 2016 Goals and Tracking Progress in stating she will “write from 6 AM until 9 AM, break, write until 11 AM. Edit from 3 PM until 5 PM, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday…”. Personally I handle my overall schedule in a spreadsheet, while the work for the coming week is added to Outlook, therefore if my slot between “3 and 5pm on Friday” which is normally assigned to “Searching for Editing work” any specific week it is possible to skip this for example if I have a specific deadline to meet for a work assignment.
That said you need to have your schedule laid out the next month in advance if possible.
Adding notes to a Notebook
We all have those appointments like doctors or dentists where we arrive well before our appointed time and have to sit in the waiting room for a long period. This time can be ideal to think and watch the world go by, but they can also be a good time to write, simply take out your trusty notebook and start writing. Look at the average waiting room, yes there are magazines, but most are 3, or more, years old or not about a subject that interests you.
I use Evernote to take a lot of my notes. The advantage is that I have an App on my PC, another on my tablet and I can also login if I am using a strange PC (such as one available in the library). Generally Evernote is with me all my waking hours and I use it whether I am adding a few words to a note or writing the complete first draft of an article. Whether you use an electronic notebook or a pen an paper it is an important first habit for any writer to have a place they can jot down those little ideas.
There is so much information available today on the Internet ,of course more than 99.99 percent of it is irrelevant rubbish, but every once in a while there is a true nugget of information that can lead to another thought or two which in turn provides the spark for a great new piece which you can write. You need to be constantly looking out for such nuggets as a way to expand your writing horizons.
The same is true for headlines in newspapers, most people receive a weekly free paper delivered to them each week and these often have reports within their pages that can provide either a background or foundation for something you can write. Here it is possible to clip any relevant article and retain it for future use. I have taken to clipping articles that could provide some inspiration.
Truth is these little snippets of information can turn out to be quite valuable when given time to expand in your subconscious. I am not suggesting you build a whole filing cabinet full of such tidbits, merely that you hold onto those which are necessary to complete projects you are either currently working on or those you intend to start. They should be regularly reviewed to ensure you don’t retain anything too long.
The Thoughts Others have
Listen to your friends, family or work colleagues, also pay attention to what is going on around the world and it will be possible the see the topics others see as important, particularly on social sites, like Facebook. This can give you the starting point for ideas to write about. Yet you must be careful not to copy, which can be so easy when looking at their ideas. Copying a sentence for you to quote is permissible, because that becomes a trigger for the words that you write but wholesale copying is called plagiarism and can result in legal action.
To be clear if you are looking at the thoughts of others as a trigger for your own words it is the ideas that are the foundation these should underpin your work. The is another advantage in using the idea, which is that once free there is no copyright in the idea only in the words used to express them.
Asking for Feedback on an idea
One thing about our lives today is that we are perhaps in contact with more people than ever before. We are in contact with other people on in a great many places, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or any other of dozens of social sites, I occasionally use a site called MyLot.com for idea generation, ask a question and plenty of people are prepared to give you their thoughts. One of the ways you can overcome that proverbial “brick wall” is to jot down as much of your idea as you can in writing, or perhaps ask it in the form of a question, then let others respond via these social sites. The point of asking your question is that it may be possible to use certain aspects of that discussion in order to enhance what you are thinking about.
You must consider both copyright and general web etiquette. The words a person uses are subject to copyright, but the ideas contained within them are not. You are free to translate any idea into your own words and do so without accrediting the person who provided the ideas because ideas, once freed, have a life of their own. If you are writing an academic paper of course all ideas should be cited, but in other material it is not necessary to cite anyone unless you directly quote their work as you are not breaching their copyright.
The point about tapping into thoughts of others is that they may be able to help you get around that roadblock, I would also say that even negative thoughts from those that disagree can also enable you to take your argument one step forward – you need to understand how to counteract their objection or possible how to strengthen your proposals.
Brainstorming and Mind Maps
The use of these tools is something I hope to return to at a later time but wished to mention them here as a method to help you build up a set of ideas. One method is to write down the core of an idea on a sheet of paper then expand on the topic by adding anything you can think of, associated words, questions, crazy thoughts, what your spouse may say – each may have some relevance. You can also record emotional triggers you may experience during the process. Through these methods it is possible to gather and categorise, or group, a variety of concepts then find ways to link them together, thus over time even a core concept can grow into something more substantial.