Creative Writing: Finding Ideas

by Aaron Wolfe

The myth of writers block aside, sometimes a writer just doesn’t know where to start. This isn’t something to feel bad about. Every writer has to start somewhere, and sometimes it’s just a matter of figuring out where the starting line is. How does a writer find a starting point, though? Where does a project idea begin? There are several ways to come up with a good idea.

Write what you know

Don’t reach for ideas in places you don’t understand. If you’ve never been on a yacht and don’t know the first, second or third thing about sailing, then don’t use a yacht in your story. Without doing a ton of research and maybe even getting a little experience, it just won’t come off as fully realistic to those who actually work with yachts because there will always be minor details you miss. And those are precious readers you may be toying with.

Instead, simply write what you know. Know a lot about your favorite sport? That’s valuable knowledge that can be used in characters, setting, or plot. Know what it feels like to lose someone precious? Let your character feel it. If you don’t know enough about something you really want to write about, study it – but always write what you know.

Write what you feel

Is there a political issue that you are passionate about, or a moral problem you have a stance on? Perhaps gay marriage, or abortion, or similar popular issues from current times. Maybe you have an opinion on polygamy, or gun control, or immigration, or any number of other topics. You have an opinion, you have some degree of knowledge about that opinion and issue – thus, you have story material. Writing a story with a theme you are passionate about can give you some amazing works.

There are countless stories to be told using the issues and problems you are passionate about, but remember: always write what you know. If you don’t know everything about an issue you care about, that’s okay. Few people do. Just do your research so that you can write a story with depth, and support the stance your theme takes fairly. Readers often appreciate good themes that are supported or explored fairly even when they don’t agree with the stance that is taken.

Write what you experience

One of the most useful tools in a writers arsenal is personal experience. Whether it be a love interest that didn’t turn out the way you wished or even one that did, a vacation that took hilarious or horrible turns, or the feelings of losing a loved one. That time you spent in the army or what you felt when you saw that bear when you went camping. The adrenalin and fear of an automobile accident, a mugging, or a fight. The feeling of getting drunk to celebrate, or to mourn.

Every experience you have ever had is material for a story, no matter how mediocre it may seem to you personally. After all, you don’t want all of your characters to be perfect or too exotic; and besides that, what may be mediocre to you may be exotic to someone else. Character flaws and daily experiences are what make characters interesting and relatable, so when you’re trying to think of something to add to a story or a character history in order to provide more depth, just look back through your own experience to see if you’ve done anything your character might have experienced. It’s easy to come up with story ideas or add depth to a current story this way.

Write what you observe

Writing about your own experience is fantastic, but you alone can only experience so much. The power of observation, then, is a great resource for the savvy writer. Just as you write about your own experience, you can learn to observe how other people live through similar and even opposite experiences. Learn to study people and events in life, and observe how people behave. This is often a simple matter of paying attention to what goes on around you. How your friend behaved during their engagement and wedding, how your cousin or sibling dealt with a rough divorce. There are many life experiences to observe all around you, every single day.

All of the life experience that goes on around you is valuable writing material. You aren’t limited to your own thoughts, feelings, or experience – you can observe the lives around you, and eventually see that everything that happens is its own story or is an event within a larger story. The power to observe the world through this perspective is not only useful to a writer, but is philosophical in its own right. We are all the protagonists of our own life stories. Live the adventure that you wish to have, and encourage the people around you to do so as well. After all, they may end up as a character in one of your stories some day.