You've finally carved out a spare moment to write. You open up a blank page, and set your fingers on the keys. But then nothing comes. You need a strategy for how to get ideas for writing—now!
You check Facebook thinking you might find something to inspire you there. No luck.
You wonder if your muse is hiding under the stack of dirty dishes, so you clean every bit of grime you can find but still come up empty.
You're at a loss for story ideas, and your creative writing time is dwindling quickly. In this post, we'll explore some ways to help you come up with writing ideas that can inspire a premise for a great story.
How to Get Writing Ideas: 9 Guaranteed Ways to Inspire You
Whether or not you're looking for your an idea for your first book or you're feeling stumped after finishing your latest (published) story, you shouldn't wait around for the muse to bless you with a brilliant book idea.
Instead, rely on yourself—trust your own imagination and passions.
To help you find inspiration instead of wait around for it, try one of these nine guaranteed ways to help you brainstorm a solid book premise:
1. Look Around
As we head into the holiday season, it’s likely we’re all going to be traveling at some point or another. Instead of pacing back and forth across the airport or diving right into that bestseller, take a moment to notice the people around you. They may be the protagonist and antagonist of your bestseller.
See that Mom and Dad with their toddler in the stroller? What’s their story? Who are they going to see?
See the salesman running through the terminal? Who’s he in a rush to get home to?
If you’re traveling by car, look at the family in the minivan next to you. How did they decide to watch that movie? How much stuff is in their trunk, and who’s going to call for a potty break first?
Sometimes the best way to overcome writer's block is taking a moment to watch your surroundings. And when you're looking, don't forget to listen to conversations that are happening around you, too.
Sometimes the best stories come out of a regular conversation or question that you never expected.
Good writers look at real people and life experiences for story ideas—and you might be surprised how many you find when you look up!
2. Pay Attention
Author Ron Rash said his New York Times bestselling novel Serena began with the image a confident, tall, strong woman on a large white horse. He saw details of the scenery, the horse, and woman but didn’t know that meant. He just knew he couldn’t shake the image from his mind, so he wrote about it.
That woman became the main character of her own movie.
Similar to the first point, “look around,” you can pluck an interesting story idea out of everyday events.
Sometimes you can be inspired by something posted on social media or one of your favorite books. Maybe you have a few favorite podcasts that talk about something other than writing, and this is where you pick up your next great story idea.
Pay attention to the world around you—and how you digest life, news, and current events.
If there's a topic that strikes your interest and motivates a call to action, stop for a second and think about it. Journaling about ideas that inspire you is a great starting point for you to come up with story ideas that might withstand the length or a novel—and if not, maybe it's something that could work well for a short story.
While idea generators and creative writing prompts are great, you don't need a list of collected ideas to spark your imagination.
Sometimes, you just need to pay attention to what already catches your attention. Taking the time to focus on something other than writing is actually an important part of the writing process.
3. Day Dream
Close your eyes for a minute. What do you see?
Brainstorming good story ideas, especially for fiction writing, requires precious time set aside for your imagination.
Sometimes, you don't even need to leave your bed to get inspired for a book idea.
If day dreaming is how you like to come up with story ideas, maybe one of these meditative strategies will nourish your imagination:
- Meditate for fifteen minutes. You can find lots of great resources on YouTube.
- Wake up and participate in some morning yoga.
- Go for a short walk.
- When you wake up, keep your eyes closed for an extra ten minutes and listen to the world around you. What comes to mind?
- Try this grounding technique. Acknowledge (1) Five thing you see, (2) Four things you can touch, (3) Three things you can hear, (4) Two things you can smell, and (5) One thing you can taste.
4. Change the Scenery
Look back at the little boy in the picture under “Day Dream.” He could be practicing piano in his living room. He could be practicing in a concert hall. But instead he's outside.
Maybe his fingers work better there. I don't know.
Maybe your fingers work better in a coffee shop. Or they prefer the library. The river. A floor.
Try sitting someplace different or in a different position and see what happens.
Sometimes all we need for new motivation is a change of scenery. However, no matter where you end up writing, I don't recommend depending on a change of scenery for inspiration.
Before you change up your writing space, head into your writing session with a plan. This will help you focus, but also feel rejuvenated by something different when you actually write.
To learn more about planning your novel, read this post.
5. Play What If
What if the referee didn’t show up to the basketball game because he's been murdered? What if the airplane lands in a different destination than expected?
What if the turkey burns the house down?
A game of “What if?” is one of the best ways to come up with story ideas that you never expected. Just when you think you've figured out the best direction for your story, questioning “What if?” actually takes your story where it needs to go.
Want a writing tip when you play try this strategy?
Don't hold back! You have a much better chance at coming up with fantastic story possibilities if you don't judge your ideas before writing them down.
To do this, I recommend setting a timer for 10-15 minutes and writing down a list of as many “what if” possibilities for your work-in-progress as possible. Don't stop to think, just write!
When you're done, you can eliminate all the ideas that don't work. But you're way more likely to find an idea that does work if you have a large list to consider.
Allowing inspiration to come from books or movies isn’t plagiarism. Watch or read the scene then hit “pause” and let your own creativity take over rather than following the established plot-line. Think about how you would have crafted the storyline differently, and then run with it.
In fact, there are no original ideas in storytelling. The best ideas are ones that are simple, but have an edge to them.
And when you come up with a new angle to an idea that's already been done, you know there's an audience looking to watch or read it.
Ever heard of comparable titles? You want these when you pitch to a literary agent or editor.
You also want to be able to say why your story is the same as THIS TITLE, but different.
- Go find five of your favorite stories in the genre you're writing
- Write a premise for each of these books
- Change the big hook that makes them this story and replace it with your own edge—something that shows irony in the story
A timid clownfish needs to swim across the Pacific Ocean in order to rescue his son. (Finding Nemo)
A [change the description and animal, make it ironic] needs to [something different, a new setting] in order to rescue her daughter.
7. Use Your Own Life
If your family’s like mine, you’ve got some interesting characters. You’ve got some crazy stories of your own.
You’ve got some moments of “Is this really happening?”
You can’t make up those things.
Borrow some moments from real life and turn them into a premise that could drive a whole book (just change enough details to protect the guilty).
And don't forget, every main character in a book needs a want—a goal. Give your protagonist this goal, and establish the stakes they are willing to get in order to get it.
8. Revisit Your Favorite Characters
Maybe they're your own or maybe they're someone else's, but we've all got favorite characters. Put them together in a box and see what happens. Trust them to come up with a clever story all on their own.
You just get to be their scribe.
9. Start Writing
With your fingers on the keys, just start moving them. Sometimes words will come out and sometimes they won't. Eventually something worth saving will appear. It just might take awhile.
Whatever you do just don't keep staring at that blinking cursor. It's a demon who whispers lies.
How to Get Ideas for Writing? Don't Hold Your Back!
Story ideas exist everywhere. However, choosing the best idea for your book—one that inspires you to write to the end—means finding an idea and main character that you love.
Using the nine ways to find story ideas in this post is a great strategy to have when looking for your next great book idea.
At the same time, it's important not to judge your ideas before you give them a chance.
Who knows? The next bestseller could be caked in an idea you initially thought was ridiculous until you asked, “What if?” Or maybe your own story dramatized with an event you read about on a blog is your next great hit.
Coming up with ideas doesn't have to be the rocky mountain generating ideas sometimes feels like.
So don't hold back. Try out one or all of the nine strategies covered in this post. Finalize an idea that you loved, and maybe even take it to the next stage of writing by planning it out—test if it's something that will move and inspire you until the end.
Stop worrying about the best idea. Write the idea that makes you motivated to write.
How do you find ideas when the well seems to run dry? Let us know in the comments.
Stop trying to write and start finishing your book. The Write Plan Planner is designed to help you plan, write, and finish your book. The book planning pages will help you imagine your best story. The daily writing pages will help you make the most of your writing time. And by the end of the planner, you'll finish your book.
Get your Write Plan Planner here »
Use one of the nine ideas listed in this post. Spend fifteen minutes freewriting a list of ideas that come from this writing exercise.
When you're done, you know the drill, post it in the comments and comment on a few other practices.
Together, we can support one another's stories!
Katie Axelson is a writer, editor, and blogger who's seeking to live a story worth telling. You can find her blogging, tweeting, and facebook-ing.