>Six Ways to Get Ideas

>In the dressing room of a mall store, I once heard a woman say to her friend in the middle of discussing the pitfalls of clothing stores, “Jane and John are having problems. They’re seeing a marriage counselor.” The serious turn in the conversation caught my attention. I made a point to remember it and wrote it down first chance I got. There are many moments like this – moments that could be scenes in a story or at least a place to begin – in everyday life. So let’s look at 6 easy, effective ways to find them.

1. Listen to and watch the people around you.
Observing others can easily fill your notebook with ideas. Once while stopped at a traffic light, I saw a guy walk across the street holding his shoes but still wearing his socks. Why did he take his shoes off? Why didn’t he take off his socks? Where was he heading and how far? Lots of questions that could lead to a story.

You’re surrounded by people all the time. At work, school, the market, the department store, the coffee shop. Do all these people have something to offer? Absolutely! Train your ears and eyes to pay attention to people. You never know when they’ll say or do something intriguing. Watch how they interact, what they do while talking, how they eat, what they buy, who they’re with when they buy it. If you do, you will have plenty of interesting things to add to your notebook.

2. Listen to the experiences of others.
Grandparents and other relatives may have hidden gems in their past. Ask questions. Get people talking. In the midst of an entirely normal conversation you may find something to use in your writing.

3. Remember your own experiences.
Reliving the past through writing exercises and prompts can lead to interesting discoveries. You may find characters for stories or events to place them in. Flannery O’Connor once remarked that living for 18 years provided enough experiences to write for a lifetime. No matter how old or young you are, you have plenty to pull from in your own past. Just spend a little time exploring it.

4. Write about your travels.
Whether you go near or far, write about the places you visit – in detail. Write down what the houses look like, how people live, what you smell when you take a walk. Write it down as you go, or take time to write it later. You won’t remember things as vividly as time goes by so write all the details you can while it’s still fresh in mind.

5. Learn new things.
What else are you interested in? Develop that interest. Between magazines, books, television, and the Internet, there is an abundance of education out there. Find something that interests you and go with it. I love history (especially certain periods) and I watch and read pretty much anything I find related to it. Because of that I have a lot of interesting tidbits I would never have found otherwise.

6. Read or watch the news.
I’ve gotten a lot of ripe ideas from news reports. There’s a lot of weird stuff that goes on, as well as surprising and just plain intriguing. So while a lot of it may seem plain, paying attention can lead to original ideas.

In short, write down anything that strikes you, no matter how small. You never know where it will lead. So use one of these suggestions or all six of them and you will find more than enough ideas.

Next week: So now that you have an idea, how do you develop it? I’ll explore some effective brainstorming techniques to get your ideas moving.

Get Writing!
As you go about life this week, make a conscious effort to listen and watch wherever you are. Your goal: Fill one standard notebook page with observations: a conversation between a mother and daughter, an interesting group across from you at a restaurant, or that decorated VW Beetle you parked next to. Pay attention to the details, and you may fill it and then some.

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