Inspiration for Writers: How to Be More Creative

Inspiration for Writers: Writing IdeasIdeas are everywhere. It’s what we do with them that matters. The latest issue of Writer’s Digest is dubbed The Big Idea Issue—and we’ve filled it with clever tips and simple strategies to help you find more inspiration for your writing, develop your most creative ideas into great stories, beat writer’s block, and stay inspired day after day.

The November/December 2012 Writer’s Digest hits newsstands this week, so I thought I’d give you a sneak peek inside by sharing three of my personal favorite tips from this issue’s talented roundup of creative contributors.

3 Tips for Making the Most of Your Writing Ideas

1. Don’t rush idea development. In her article “How to Develop Any Idea Into a Great Story,” award-winning novelist Elizabeth Sims relays a story about attending an inventors’ club meeting (who knew such a thing existed?) and having a lightbulb moment when an experienced inventor leveled with the newbies and said this: “Look, ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s the development that put you over the top.” Sims writes:

Fiction writers share a lot with those inventors. It’s not hard to get inspired by a great concept, to take it to your table or toolshed or cellar and do some brainstorming, and even to start putting the story on paper—but eventually, many of us lose traction. Why? Because development doesn’t happen on its own. In fact, I’ve come to think that idea development is the No. 1 skill an author should have.

In the full article, Sims pays it forward by sharing plenty of lightbulb moments of her own in a clever four-step method for developing any basic idea into the most innovative of stories. (She also illustrates her method in a full-fledged example of creative story idea development in our online-exclusive companion to the piece.)

2. When battling writer’s block, understand that willpower is overrated. In his article “Overcoming Writer’s Block Without Willpower,” writer Mike Bechtle explains:

In their book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, researchers Chip Heath and Dan Heath share the results of their revealing study that found we have a finite amount of willpower available. Simply put, when we use it up by resisting a chocolate doughnut all morning, there’s none left to stay disciplined in our writing an hour later. The “willpower tank” has to refill before we can use it again.

Bechtle goes on to show what scientists have discovered about how the creative brain works—and how writers can use that knowledge to their advantage to be more productive and minimize creative blocks. I highly recommend the full article—not only is it filled with great tips, but it’s just plain fascinating stuff.

3. Embrace what’s unique about your own creative process. From idea generation to creative expression, the writing process is different for every writer. But we can learn a lot from sharing in each other’s struggles, epiphanies and victories. In this issue, we collected essays on creativity and inspiration from five very different writers. In one of them, Roger Dunlap writes of how he managed to finally free his creativity by, after years of resistance, finally giving himself permission to call himself a writer:

I found the answer on trips to New York and New Orleans, where I discovered street musicians, sidewalk artists, jugglers and singers. There is a saxophone player in front of Macy’s who will tear your heart in two with his rendition of the blues. There is a sketch artist on the banks of the Mississippi who can make you feel the burning sand and cooling surf of the Caribbean. I wouldn’t ask that sax player if he were a musician. I could hear the answer. With the artist, I could see the answer. Fame and money are not the measure of their artistic identities.

What’s the most unexpected place you’ve found story ideas? Leave a comment to enter our free issue giveaway!

In my editor’s letter for this issue, I share a story of unexpectedly finding inspiration for my writing during a visit-gone-wrong to the county fair—and judging from the unusually high volume of feedback I’ve already been receiving in emails and tweets, the experience really resonated with writers of all types. That makes me wonder:

What’s the most unexpected place that you have found writing inspiration or creative story ideas?

Leave your response in the comments section below, and you’ll be entered to win a free copy of The Big Idea Issue! Deadline to enter is 8 a.m. EST on Thursday, October 25, and the winner will be announced in a future post.

All of the above is really just a taste of what the November/December 2012 Writer’s Digest has in store. I promise: We don’t call it The Big Idea Issue for nothing! Preview the full November/December 2012 issue online, check it out on your local newsstand, or download a digital version instantly.

Jessica Strawser
Editor, Writer’s Digest Magazine

Follow me on Twitter: @jessicastrawser

Like what you read from WD online? Subscribe today, so you’ll never miss an issue in print!

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18 thoughts on “Inspiration for Writers: How to Be More Creative

  1. Anne Galivan

    Overhearing conversations at the local coffee shop and elsewhere. It’s amazing how many ideas you can get from simply hearing a snippet of a conversation or even just one sentence that strikes you as interesting, odd or even gets your blood boiling.

    Like someone else above, I have incredibly vivid dreams and am working on a short story based on one of those dreams. It is a combination science fiction/light romance. I normally don’t even write fiction, but this dream was so incredibly vivid and had such a clear story line that I just couldn’t let it go by!

  2. shanitaja

    Ideas literally are everywhere and the other day while I was driving from the grocery store, I renoticed a house with a four tier fountain in front of it. I’ve seen the fountain before but that particular day, it came to life and made me realize a story with the fountain as the main focal point was in view.

    No water spilled from the fountain, but I imagined water in it. Heavy, brasslike, and gold in color made other ideas roll around in my head. To stroll up the walkway, observe and touch the fountain makes entry into the house much more eventful.

    This fountain seemed so inviting that I began a story right away from it.


  3. Shadowfireflies

    I had a great story idea, surprisingly, when I was playing Halo 2 (a video game). The narrator was describing one of the Halo ring worlds and the landscape, of the “lush green meadows like those on earth” and “how is life able to survive on an artificial world?”
    I had to pause the game then, and I jumped up, grabbed a pen and began to write furiously; inspired by the idea of an artificial world, or a place which is artificial, which is still inhabited by life forms, and the many avenues I could go down for this story!
    A credit to the makers of Halo 2 🙂 I have been inspired

  4. Beth Saunders

    I think the seed of my historical novel started in the basement of an old church in London, where I saw my ancestor’s name in a 1600s book. Just one sentence, about a meeting in his house. I’ve been addicted to that story ever since.

  5. Cre8ive

    I don’t have a car so when I moved to Minneapolis to study at the University, I took the bus to school, grocery shopping, and checkiing out the various neighborhoods all over town. All trips were the result of hours of studying a city and bus map until I found an interesting end point like a shopping mall, a museum, a church something that peaked my interest on that day. On occasion I would have a destinationin mind but some new neighborhood would capture my attention mid way through the trip and I would pull the bell and get off and explore for an hour or two. Then back on the bus I’d go to finish my trip to the original destination. On days like that I’d head home late in the afternoon, tired, my shopping bag full of finds that I couldn’t do without but eager to get home to end the day. I’d like to say that all my trips were quiet and uneventful but they weren’t. Take the day a man in a wheel chair fell out of his chair when the bus stopped suddenly and then on another trip on a very cool fall day when we stopped on a corner and waited for maybe 3 or 4 minutes until a woman got on with 2 small children. She got on quickly and gathered her children around her. I thought she was acting odd until the bus driver shut the door and the bus started to move again. I heard a man yelling then heard pounding on the outside of the window where she was sitting. She cringed and turned her face away. I wondered about her. What had caused her to run? Did she have any place to go? DId she have money? It was an incident that I could write about because once years ago, I too had gotten on a bus with my toddler and escaped.

  6. karicarlisle

    I was stuck in the waiting room of an auto repair shop with nothing but car magazines (really?) and a dead iPod battery. I pulled out my notebook and started looking around. In my line of vision was a vending machine, and within minutes I had the outline for an article for the museum professionals community on using food to connect with museum visitors. Everything relates… you just have to connect the dots.

  7. Eowyn

    ((What’s the most unexpected place that you have found writing inspiration or creative story ideas?))

    During a presidential debate, or when arguing the nutritional merits of broccoli with an eight-year-old, which is pretty much the same thing.

  8. havingfun

    Ready? Okay…
    I have horses and every few days I need to go into their pens and clean up their manure. I pick it up from the ground with a handy manure fork, toss it into a wheel barrel and haul it over the knoll to a an ever-growing pile where eventually it will be spread with a tractor. It is a mindless but very satisfying job. Think of vacuuming a carpet and leaving all those clean lines and how nice it looks before anyone walks on it. That is how I feel about a clean horse pen. There is something about this job that puts me in the kind of thinking mode I need to be creative. No, I do not know why. Maybe it is the repetitiveness, maybe it is symbolic of emptying my mind (full of you-know-what). Whatever the reason may be, I have been struck with amazingly good ideas for my writing while performing this job. Excuse me, I have to go haul manure…

  9. JRPDavis

    Strangely, a market. I had to run in because I had forgotten peaches for a recipe and it was closer than driving to the big box store grocery store. I ran (okay, jogged) in the front entrance, which was open like garage doors to the open-air market. I had to shove my way through people weighing fruit and vegetables, but I stopped just when I had grapefruit on my left. It was a pile in a haphazard pyramid and a few had landed on the floor, bruised and dirty. I then got an idea to write a short piece about the owner of a fruit market and his journey from wanting to take over his uncle’s business to letting high school employees run the show while he took night classes for law. So strange.

  10. KarenDoll

    Sometimes I get an idea when I’m in the shower ! Or, if I wake up at night and can’t fall back to sleep, I just start thinking, and ideas pop into my head…so of course I have to risk waking up my dear sweet husband by turning on my lamp and writing them down. Oi !!!

  11. paula

    Well, I was watching one of my favorite movies, “The Mirror Has Two Faces” (yes I’m a dork) for about the millionth time and I was up to the scene where Babs, wearing a hideous bridesmaids dress for her sister’s wedding, is staring at herself the mirror with a disgusted look on her face.

    I paused the movie and was like, “Ack! I gotta write a short story about a thirty-something year old woman who, is for some reason, wearing a pink prom dress!”

    So I did.

    Yay to Barbara Streisand movies!

  12. Crisman

    Wonderful post!

    I discovered a wealth of inspiration rooted deep in my family tree. Turns out our family has owned a castle in England for over 800 years and it is considered to be the most haunted building in Britain! Now I’m deep in research telling ghost stories that directly involve my ancestors. My husband-to-be and I are even making a pilgrimage to England to see what stories we can unearth.

  13. globaldish

    Such great tips!

    The most unexpected place I’ve found inspiration recently is in Naples! I was there a couple of weeks ago, eating the greatest pizza I’ve ever had, in an alleyway that seemed to be in greyscale. I don’t know what it was that was so inspirational – the surroundings, the pizza (I’m a food writer), or the people. Whatever it was, it was perfect.


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