Sunday, November 9, 2008


I've written about writing what you know, but a common question always seems to be where do writers get ideas. You know there are lots of ideas floating around out there. After all, you pick up magazines every day filled with all kinds of articles and stories. Still, you find it hard to come up with an idea to write about.

First, you need to get your creative juices flowing. A few years ago, I attended a one-day workshop facilitated by Lisa Dale Norton, who was founder and director of the Neahkahnie Institute ( Manzanita, Oregon), author, and writing instructor. At the workshop, Lisa encouraged writers to use the right side of their brains. To do this, she suggested ten-minute free writing exercises. In this exercise, you start with a partial statement, such as "I'm feeling . . . ," or "I remember . . . ," or "I see . . . " Then, just write continuously for ten minutes. Don't stop to edit your work or think about what you're writing. It's O.K. to repeat words or sentences. It's O.K. to use incorrect grammar. The purpose is to allow your right, creative, brain to do its job, unencumbered by the critical left side of your brain. It's amazing how well this technique works. Once your brain is in high gear, it's easier to be creative.

Another technique suggested by not only Ms. Norton, but other writing instructors including Gabriele Lusser Rico author of Writing the Natural Way, is to try clustering. Take a single word chosen at random such as "beach." Place it in the center of your paper. Then cluster around it other words that remind you of beach, like "sand," "seagulls," "children," "sand castles," etc. Connect them to "beach" with lines. Without stopping to think, expand on each of those words, until you have filled a large portion of your paper with related words. As you look at what you've written, you'll most likely see a story idea or a memory that evokes one.

In the days to come, I'll offer you some other tricks for finding ideas. Happy paper trails.

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