Written by A Guest Author December 17th, 2020

Simple Ways to Generate New Writing Ideas

By Christine M. Estel

Approximately five years ago, while perusing the office and stationery supplies in Marshalls, I stumbled upon a book entitled, 642 Things to Write About, priced at under $15.00, and I bought it without really studying the contents. When I got home and looked inside, I saw no page numbers, but I was delighted to find that my impulse buy was packed with writing prompts and lined sections for the responses. These prompts ranged from the simple, like “Make a case for your favorite fruit,” found in the first quarter of the book, to the existential, “The poorest you’ve ever been” (located in the last 20 pages), where I’d get to decide the definition of “poor” and explain. Upon further inspection, I noticed that some prompts were quirky, funny, and even though-provoking, but, overall, most prompts required reflection on the most basic objects and moments. 

I realized that coming up with writing topics did not require anything greater than an attunement to the everyday things around me, like how my toes feel inside still-warm socks pulled from the dryer, or how the spoonful of microwaved soup I’d taken from the freezer feels on my tongue when one portion is still frozen solid, yet another part is scalding. In choosing to focus on the simplicity in my daily existence, I discovered a confidence to write more often, without worry about “finding the right words,” which in turn made me a more relaxed writer. 

If you’re a writer who wears many hats and juggles many responsibilities, you don’t have time to stress about finding earth-shattering topics to write about. So, here are a few ways you can find simple ideas using the world around you.

Examine your daily schedule.

Choose one routine or activity you do each day, specifically noting the steps you take to complete the task. Although you could write about the entire process, try thinking from a new angle: Write about what the process would look like if the steps were done in a different order, or if you skipped a step completely. Or you could write about how your day would be impacted if you skipped the routine or activity entirely. Or, still, write about the routine or activity’s influence on your mood, attitude, mental health, or anything else you want. You could even write about another person’s perspective as they see and hear you complete the task.

Consider the items you use, eat, and trash.

On the surface, the everyday objects we touch, use, sit on, eat, and even dispose of are chock-full of writing potential. When’s the last time you closely followed the lines and curves of a spindle staircase and described each one using personification or metaphor? Have you ever captured the sensory details of a handmixer? What about writing from the perspective of the broken piece of a porcelain plate, from “crash to trash”? If we stop to consider the “mundane,” they’re actually quite intriguing to write about.

Move beyond tangibles into the intangibles.

Maybe you’re a writer who is tired of writing about “stuff.” In that case, it might be time for you to move on to the things we cannot touch, smell, taste, or hear. Instead, you could write about the things you feel, experience, wish, or dream, which could also be inspired by your (changing) “age and stage.” For instance, instead of defining trite concepts like love, happiness, and motherhood, expand your word pool and choose something infrequently explored, like (dis)continuity, treasure, or respite, and then use personal anecdotes and examples to capture the term’s essence. You may also choose to write about terms, locations, and people inspired by current events, social media, or your travels, but do something creative with it. In other words, instead of writing about a small town in England from a general perspective, write about the unusual trinket you purchased in a tiny shop there, or the circuitous route you walked to get to that shop.

Whether you’re a writer who has hours to expend, or a writer with little free time outside of your career, family, and other personal obligations, finding writing ideas does not need to be a struggle or painful. Stop to observe the people, places, and things around you, and you’re bound to find beauty in the simplicity.

Bio: Christine M. Estel lives and writes in the Philadelphia area. Her work has appeared in Family Story Project, The Mothership, Women in Higher Education, and others. Follow her on Twitter @EstellingAStory.


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