The Manhattan Project--2016 A to Z Theme

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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Ask Arlee: Will I Run Out of Ideas? (An #IWSG Post)

First Wed of Every Month        It's that time again!  First Wednesday means insecurities as we join Alex J. Cavanaugh's Insecure Writer's Support Group.  We always manage to come up with something but maybe it will just eventually be a matter of rehashing the same old anxieties.  Hmm!  Do I sense an idea coming my way?

       So what insecurities to bring up today?  Let me delve back to my post from February 25th of this year.    At that time I announced my intent to start a Wednesday series called "Ask Arlee" and requested that readers submit questions to which I might offer my solutions.  Again I'll look at a question that I get a bit insecure about myself.

Ask Arlee:

       The question I'm going to address in this #IWSG installment comes from my blog buddy and highly creative A to Z Team member Jeremy from Retro-Z:   
How to keep fresh with ideas, when your brain is on overload... because of life stuff?
        I think this is one of the all-time common insecurities that many creative people have.   How do we keep coming up with new ideas?    I think this is especially a challenge for anyone who has a big time success  in some creative field from the onset and spends a lifetime trying to live up to their early success.

        Most of us probably don't fit that situation, but if we're trying to come up with regular blog content, how do we keep it original and interesting?

         Andrew Leon offers one aspect to the answer to this question in one of his recent posts.  He recommends that we capitalize on who we are.  Write from your inner self and use your personality.  Even the most boring people can be interesting some of the time.   Write about what you love and what you know best and you're starting from a good place.

          But you say you need content that will keep readers coming back?  Find ways to mix things up a bit and tell the old stories in new ways.   One theory of writing fiction states that there are something like seven basic plots that writers can write about.  Some theorists may vary on the number, but I think we can safely say that there are a limited number of general plot lines that we can use.  Freshness comes with presentation--interesting locales, characters, and situations.

           Here are a few suggestions about how to come up with fresh material that can make your writing stand out:

  1. Keep informed with current events and trends.
  2. Learn new things--read and research to stimulate your creativity.
  3. Listen to others--eavesdropping is great for helping develop better dialog and the stories and facts you may pick up from others can prompt good ideas.
  4. Use the "life stuff"--Develop what's happening in your own life into stories, articles, and blog posts.  If you've got a problem undoubtedly someone else has had or will have the same problem and might learn from your experience.
        That's a start, but this gives you a general idea. In fact I don't think there's a whole lot wrong with using the same idea more than once and just making it seem different.  How many writers do this?  I'd say more than a few. 

          And if the ideas don't come and nothing seems fresh, maybe you need a change of scenery for a while.      Nothing wrong with taking a breather from what you've been doing or even making a career change.  I guess that's what hobbies, vacations, and volunteer work are partly for.  

          Yeah, this is pretty simplistic, but Arlee is a simple kind of guy.

In Case You Missed It:

One of my recent blog posts was featured at NewsOK, the digital edition of the Oklahoman newspaper in Oklahoma City.  My thanks to Darla Lindauer for the recognition.

        What do you do when you're stymied for new ideas?   Do you ever get sick of what you're doing?   What would you do with your life if you could do anything you wanted and not have to worry about your "life stuff"?
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  1. Excellent advice, Lee. It is difficult to come up with quality content when the mind and heart turn to mush, yet somehow thousands, perhaps millions of bloggers do it every single day. And yes, we all need a break from it sometimes too.

  2. Hi Arlee,

    I think that listening to others tell stories is a good way to come up with new ideas and also, letting your imagination run free. Sometimes when I'm just sitting there quietly an image will spring up that sparks a new story idea.

  3. For me, it's not an issue to not have fresh ideas. It's putting my butt in the chair and writing them down.

  4. I definitely need this as coming up with new ideas is one of my struggles.

  5. Fantastic tips! One way I overcome a lack of inspiration is by starting small, as silly as that sounds.

    A single character or idea--and it's usually something very simple--is all it takes, really. Just put them into a setting/situation and start writing.

    I do this, because when I try to shoot for a grand idea it often overwhelms with details.

    One other thing I do is feed my creativity by watching movies I love, listening to evocative music, traveling, etc. Those tend to kickstart me as well. :)

  6. My best tip is stay ahead of the 8 ball, then when life turns to crap, you'll already have things scheduled and you can take a break.

  7. MJ-- Ideas flow and we just need to be on the qui vive for them as they come into our presence.

    Quanie-- Keeping an open mind will allow the ideas to enter.

    Karen -- Me too. I don't have much problem dreaming things up, but I do have a problem in getting them on paper.

    ESBB-- I believe that.

    Alex-- You? I don't believe that for a moment.


  8. EJ -- Big ideas can come from the smallest seeds of inspiration. Keeping the mind active stimulates more thinking. The mind is a muscle that needs to be worked out.

    Patt-- I'm a big believer in that concept. When I'm on a creative roll I'll write down as much as I can to use later when I'm in the doldrums.


  9. I never thought of your tip #3 as being useful for writing/blogging, but you are right! If we want insight into the way someone else sees things what better way??? It is also an excellent reminder that listening in often offers up more questions than answers, which is another good thing to remember if you are going to utilize that device.

    Great tips all the way around!

  10. This was great, Arlee. Yes. This can be difficult. I jot ideas done when I get a brain fart for a blog.

    Hugs and chocolate,

  11. Arlee, I really liked your suggestion to stay up on current events. I don't tend to be an avid newspaper reader as most of my "news" comes from Twitter and Facebook (which allows for alternate versions of the same story), but when I'm hard-up for content I scour the paper for inspiration. There's always some article that sparks ire or excites me in some way. I also have a method whereby the SECOND an idea pops into my head, I open a new word document and jot it down IMMEDIATELY, then save it to the appropriate subject-entitled folder. Then if I come across blogs or other material that is along the same lines, I save the link to that doc for future reference whenever I get around to actually writing the piece. Similarly, I use my iPod to email myself thoughts to capture at a later point in time if I'm not at my computer. Finding new material isn't very difficult for me; my problem tends more toward motivation and personal discipline. Got any cures for those? lolz!!! :p

  12. Robin - I'm very curious (or nosy as my wife might say). I like to make up stories about people I don't know but overhear talking.

    Shelly -- A blog can be a good way to expel excess thought gas.

    Andi -- I tend to be on that same lack-of-motivational boat drifting down the lazy river. Wish I could help with that so I'd kick my own butt. Your idea about starting the Word Doc is a good one. I've lost so many good ideas because I didn't jump on them right away. I do keep some documents when I think of doing it, but I don't do it enough.
    Newspapers today are not as good as they used to be in my opinion, but still they can offer great material sometimes. I keep a file for clippings of interesting articles and I'll delve into it sometimes for ideas or for research about something I'm writing.


  13. I have to admit I glom onto photography and writing challenges and I'm off and running. Sometimes a topic will prompt a new idea or feature on my blog.

  14. I've gotten lots of ideas from all of those ways. I keep an ideas notebook to write them down, and I also have files of magazine or newspaper articles, or perhaps a photo or a brochure, that make for good ideas. So whenever I feel stymied for ideas, I look through my ideas notebook and files and sometimes always comes to me!

    Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

  15. Excellent advice, Lee. Sometimes its difficult to come up with fresh ideas when one is held captive by life and its problems.

  16. I struggle all the time to come up with new ideas, especially for blog posts. But I love to read and sometimes just reading someone else's blog will trigger a thought in my head that I can expand on.

  17. teehee--not so simple. You're pretty smart. I like to mix it up a little... let the life event or eaves dropping interact a little with... usually writing, but sometimes some other thing. Ideas seem to come in batches, too, so I usually have a list of ideas I haven't hit yet for it I'm really at a loss.

  18. Tami -- The challenges can help to put us in hyper-creativity mode to spawn ideas for later use. I do the same thing.

    Laura -- It helps to keep those ideas filed away for later use doesn't it.

    Rachna -- When held captive by life that's a good time to keep a record for a story later or even a memoir.

    Sarah-- Same here. I've gotten many blog post ideas from other blogs and bloggers. Take my post today as an example.

    Hart -- Funny how often times ideas don't just come in a trickle but a tsunami. I guess it's a one thought leads to another sort of thing. Keeping that idea list is like an investment in a bank.


  19. Great tips, and especially helpful to a blogger at this point in my life!

    I have ideas nearly everyday, and my problem is pushing aside life to get to them! lol

    Read your featured post in the nice! I have memories all the way back to 5 years old! However...I too have walked into a room specifically for something and totally forgot why, and even said to self..."why am I here"! I think we all do it, and it doesn't have to do with maturing, it just happens!

    Have a great day, and as always, enjoyed your post!

  20. Whoa! Imagine my surprise!
    And my next post in that series is on content.

    One thing that I do (and let me just say explicitly) is keep a list of ideas. All kinds of ideas. I keep a list of ideas for blog posts (with notes). I keep a list of story ideas. I make notes about those story ideas as I have them. With the length of my lists, I don't think I'm ever going to have to worry about running out of ideas, as I seem to have them much more quickly than I can use them.

  21. My is what MJ said and what Andrew said. Glad I read the comments so you wouldn't have to read them twice ;-)
    Tina @ Life is Good

  22. I love the eavesdropping tip Lee, that's a good one for getting ideas but all of them are amazing. Running out of ideas has crossed my mind so I do appreciate this guide a considerable amount, thanks for sharing mate.

  23. Sandy-- Maybe you and I are forgetting immediate things because our minds are in the past or thinking of new writing ideas.

    Andrew -- When I was composing this post I read your post and thought it fit in nicely. I too don't think I'll run out of ideas because I have so many written down.

    Tina -- Good things are worth repeating.

    Yeamie-- Eavesdropping can reap some interesting tidbits of information.


  24. This was excellent Lee, it is hard at times to come up with good posts.Most interesting to read and well digested.


  25. I never seem to have trouble coming up with ideas for my next book. My problem is not being able to write fast enough.

  26. Thankfully coming up with ideas isn't one of my problems. Finding the time to work on them? Yup. That's me :)

  27. Lee,

    Coming up with new ideas I find extremely easy. Go surreal, keep them guessing and do a bit of satire.

    And I'm lucky enough to have Penny the Jack Russell dog and modest internet superstar take over the writing on my site. It's all good.

    IWSG aka "I Was Seeking Gary". Yes, I can also write delusional stuff.

    Take care, dude.

  28. Yvonne -- If you qualify the issue with "good posts" then I can agree.

    Susan GK-- I agree. Just getting started is my biggest hurdle. Then if only I could write faster.

    Jemi -- Yes, time is a commodity that can sometimes be scarce.

    Gary -- Delusions can keep one very busy especially if surrealistic.


  29. Thank you for sharing this great list.
    I can usually get myself out of a funk just by taking a walk but I've been really stuck lately.

  30. I always felt that adding new experiences to yourself helps with new ideas. It changes your perspective on things as well as voice too. Well, you've given me some new things to think about. Thanks.

  31. Great advice Arlee. Now I need to write about how I saved my husband's life last weekend! It sounds worse than it is or rather it all turned out fine but could have been horrible. In other words the Fates were giving me great material and making sure I got a new idea to write about while hubs is fine. Close one though....

  32. Last year I had too MANY ideas. This year I've only had one new book idea and I'm grateful. But for those having difficulty you definitely gave some great ideas by creating this post Arlee.

    Blog: Queendsheena
    IWSG Co-host

  33. Doreen -- I think walks are great ways to get inspired. I've taken many and been rewarded with ideas in the process.

    Samuel -- New experiences equal new ideas. We should be open to them.

    Desert -- Even small things can be turned into great stories in the right hands.

    Sheena -- When the well is full then that's the time to put up some water for later. An idea file or journal is a great resource for any writer.


  34. Arlee, I dedicated something to you on the Thursday post. I hope you like it:)

  35. Great advice as usual Lee! I've been tapping into the life stuff more often. Finding my voice and finally getting my act together so it feels like a whole new source of stories. Good point about taking a breather if you are tapped out. Everyone needs to recharge now and then. Thanks for the inspiration!

  36. Great advice all around, and definitely an interesting topic.
    To which I raise my head "Been there, done that."
    Not having ideas SUCKS, the only thing that sucks more is when you do have an idea and you're not sure if it's good enough to pursue.

    For me personally, keeping the motor going is assisted by things in everyday life... sometimes venting about a constant source of annoyance could become something.
    But I'm always inspired by music and movies, even books... especially if it's something brand new, something I haven't tried before or coming back to something you haven't seen in YEARS and you're seeing it with new eyes and a new mindset.

    Let's just say anything's possible. Inspiration comes from the strangest places sometimes.

  37. Susanne & Robin -- Thanks!

    Buck --There is much to be said about writing what you know. We each have our own perspectives and experiences and that is often worth sharing with others.

    Jackie-- Something I especially like about blogging is that it is a good writing lab where experimentation can be done. We can test the waters to see how good an idea really is and just drop it if we aren't getting far with it. Inspiration is everywhere and it's sometimes a matter of elaborating upon the ideas we encounter. One of the jobs of a writer is to stimulate interest in what we're writing about.


  38. Hi Lee .. I know many have challenges getting their ideas out onto paper ..

    I love your thoughts here .. I'm just grateful I have plenty to write about .. but it's taken me many years to curate my ideas for the future ..

    Cheers Hilary

  39. Hilary -- I don't see you running out of ideas for blog posts any time soon. You know how to find the inspiration.



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