Where Do You Get Your Inspiration?

The dreaded blank page. The cursor blinking, waiting for you, anticipating action.

Blinking.

You too are waiting for something, anything to pop into your head, but unfortunately your mind is as blank as the computer screen before you. You need inspiration.

Whether you are trying to come up with article ideas to pitch or are attacking your weekly column, having good sources of inspiration is essential to keeping your writing on track.

Some of my favorite sources of inspiration are a bit unusual. Sure, I look at what my favorite bloggers are talking about and for my parenting articles I look to my two in-house walking sources of information, but there are a couple more places that always get my juices flowing:

  • Community/coffee shop bulletin boards. I’ve found postings from a couple desperate to adopt, so they put up the equivalent of an adoption resume – good makings of an article on non-traditional adoption stories with a source attached. I’ve also found information on activities, events, clubs and meetings that are great human interest stories and good sources for evergreen topics.
  • Random Google. I throw a random term out and see what pops up. Venturing past the first couple of pages usually sparks some sort of interesting angle.
  • Craigslist and Freecycle. The classifieds on Craigslist go beyond run-of-the-mill TV and couches for sale. The barter and free sections are particularly good for stories. I have seen some of the strangest requests and giveaways on Freecycle – including a wanted post for a taxidermied animal foot.
  • My Own Work. Every so often when I’m stumped for ideas I go back through my old clips and notes from interviews. In my articles I look for different audiences to pitch to and different angles to explore. In my notes I look for other ideas and information an interview subject discussed that didn’t quite fit into the article then, but could translate into a new article now.
  • Research News. I’ve used the research news page at universities to kick start a query for years. Depending on the size of the university, you can get news on everything from breast cancer research to advances in car safety to potty training studies and media studies.

Those are a couple of my favorites – what are yours? Where do you go when the mind goes blank?

Comments

  1. I like to go to the library and just start looking at books. This is usually a great way to come up with ideas for me. Just looking at all of the books typically starts the gears turning in my head. My second choice is just surfing the net, or watching television. Maybe I’m just strange but some weird things pop into my head at this points which make great pieces.

  2. I like to read cover blurbs on print magazines and re-think the concepts for my topic areas. Google Alerts bring me all kinds of crazy ideas. And – believe it or not – I like to read white papers, and rethink how to present that information as a feature story instead.

  3. A walk around the block or on the treadmill does wonders to clear my head.

  4. Like Phil, I definitely get great ideas at the gym. But when I’m stuck at the computer, I go through the press releases on PR Newswire (http://media.prnewswire.com). That usually helps to spark interest in something.

  5. Definitely outdoors. Outdoors is always more inspiring and uplifting to me than indoors, any day.

  6. I subscribe to Prevention, Essence, and Redbook, and they always have interesting article ideas on every imaginable subject. I like to take a concept and find a untouched angle.

  7. I’ve got a backlog of ideas that I only wish I had time to pursue! I get most of my ideas while walking. I walk 7km every morning and use the time to people-watch and gather my thoughts. I get lots of ideas just by watching the people, the seasons, their pets, their commutes… internet surfing just muddles my brain without giving me any direction. The walking, fresh air, time to myself, really helps me focus.

  8. I walk too. Or read fiction.

  9. Handstands. When the lights go out, I walk around on my hands. All the blood rushing to my head brings with it a lot of ideas.

  10. I like to go back to my old work and see if anything can be revised or updated into an article. I also get ideas from looking around on forums…finding out what people are talking about is a great start.

  11. Allison, could you elaborate on white papers in case everyone’s not familiar with that term? Great idea by the way.

    It looks like getting out and getting active really gets the mojo going – does this dispel the myth of the out-of-shape writer? Here’s a quick question for you all – how important is outside activity to you as a writer? How does it impact your work?

  12. When I blank, that’s when I change focus. Sometimes I will tackle a household chore or run errands, but I just get moving for a little while. Other times I will tackle a job application or read over some job postings to see what jumps out. I find that writing one query will often give birth to other ideas.

    And I revisit old work as well. I’ll take an 800 word article and cut it down to a 200 word post. Or reverse that. Either way I end up with more bang for my buck with little extra effort.

    Oh – and when I get ideas, I write them down in outline form. For a long time I would find an article title in my notes or a sentence about a possible article, but have no idea where I was headed with it. With the outline (just a working title with 5 to 7 points to cover) I find that I can get back into the grove of what I was thinking.

  13. Conversations with friends/family/writers/bloggers/business associates inspire me.

    I may ask them directly for help [saying something like, I'm trying to write an article on ABC, and have these ideas, but i'm not sure how to move forward] and we then brainstorm ideas. Or the story ideas come from our regular conversations.

    On forums, sometimes people mention an issue that affects them personally, and I ask myself, what does it mean to me or some other demographic?

    For example, weeks ago ( i think), Ann G mentioned something about a plan by a division of IBM to cut salaries, and I wondered if this was a local issue or global issue. And if it is global, how would IBM operations in Africa be affected? A news article came out of that, thanks Anne G.

  14. @Damaria-

    You’re welcome. I think it is only in Vermont that this is happening, and I was just talking about that last night. One division of IBM went on a “morale” boosting picnic where they skipped out of work early and went to the lake for lunch, including beer. This happens while other departments face layoffs and salary cuts. I realize this is just how the corporate world works sometimes, but it sucks!

    And I do understand exactly what you mean. My son just came up with an idea for a writing project that he’s asked me to help type up every week. Won’t be a paid deal obviously, but for my kids I’d do anything.

    He just started high school and they are using K12 Planet for parents to keep up to date on how their kid is doing. My son’s never had a B in his life, he’s always been straight A’s, so I figured high school would be a challenge finally. They have four class levels – basic for the slow learners, intermediate, college prep and then the accelerated. He’s in all of the accelerated courses, pulling A’s and B’s. It was one grade in biology that caught my eye. The assignment had been to answer a series of questions so that the teacher could learn more about that student. My son got a C on the paper. I’d proofread it and his answers were exact. Not to mention on an opinion paper, you really can’t grade opinions.

    The list of four questions were supposed to be answered in one full sentence. And only one was marked wrong – hence the C. But here is where I disagree wholeheartedly.

    The question was:

    What do you feel your best quality is?

    His answer: “I definitely feel that being immensely stubborn is my best quality.”

    The teacher noted that she marked that wrong because being stubborn is not a good quality. I really, truly disagree. Being stubborn is critical to not caving in to peer pressure among many of the things a high schooler faces.

    I want to argue the point with her, but he’s at that age where he won’t let me and said he’d get back at her in his own unique manner. So his idea is to create a blog detailing his life in high school for the next four years from his perspective and then when high school ends, making sure all of the teachers, good or bad, get sent the link so that they understand exactly how they are presenting themselves to the younger generation.

  15. Logging on to my online bank account and checking the balance usually acts as a good kick in the pants…

  16. John – Yep, that’ll do it :0) A brief look at the bill calendar is enough to scare the pants off of a writer :0)

    “Account balance: $15.35 = Gotta great article idea “Beans and Franks Gourmet!”

  17. When my brain shuts down and the page is blank, I, too, am a ‘walk away and do something else’ person. Usually, once my mind can wind down from work and writing and focus on something relaxing or fun, I am better able to focus on writing again – from a fresh perspective.

    For new ideas, I read and watch a lot of news, check out various favorite blogs and magazines, watch YouTube videos, look through free stock photos, watch shows on Hulu, visit forums, troll twitter, read new articles and postings by favorite writers (as well as the comments on them – which sometimes offer leads), check hot topics and hot keyword sites, check what calls for content and assignment topics are being requested a lot, and type any keyword into a search engine to see what new stuff is out there about it.

  18. @Ann G – I agree with you- in the right context, being stubborn is a good thing. I’m surprised that a teacher who must know how much peer pressure young people have to deal with would not appreciate it. Never mind that you don’t get very far in life or career if you slink off every time someone says No, and school should play some role in preparing kids to be assertive and to know when to concede and when to fight for their beliefs.

  19. Just now popped back in here. In my world white papers are long vendor reports that give an in-depth description of a product, methodology or business philosophy. They’re usually pretty dry and technical, so it can be fun to think about how to re-spin the content for feature articles.

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