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Creative Writing - where to find fresh ideas

"I've got to prepare a talk tonight. I think I'll just pop over to the idea store for some fresh concepts."

"I'll do some work on the novel, then. Could you get me a bag of inspiration while you're over there? Oh, on second thoughts, why not stop by Sarah's first? She might have some spare."

What a pity it doesn't work that way. There's no one ready-made source of great ideas. They don't just arrive to order, oven-fresh and neatly packaged, from Ideas-to-go. Yet, at some point, each of us will need to summon up ideas for a talk or a piece of writing, perhaps under pressure of a deadline.

So what can we do to help the process along?

Know how you work best. For some people, ideas bubble up while they're taking a shower or washing the dishes, for others they shape up best on a jog or on the daily drive to work. Some people like to kick ideas around with a few like-minded friends, while others work best alone and in silence. Some find that time pressure results in their best ideas, while for others it induces panic and blankness.

Keep track of what gets your creative juices flowing and take advantage of it.

Relax. Creativity guru Jurgen Wolf (whose site is a treasure trove of creative ideas) suggests sleeping on the problem whenever possible. Just before going to sleep, and just after waking, are among the most fertile periods for developing new ideas, so take advantage of this by keeping a pen and pad on the bedside table. If you don't have time to sleep on it, put your feet up and a favourite CD on (many people find classical music, especially Bach and Mozart, very effective).

Start from your own experience. Look at your education, your career and your hobbies and interests. Nobody else has had quite the same experiences as you, and other people will be interested in hearing about new topics. Even activities they share, such as parenting, or working life, can still provide interesting material when looked at from your own unique angle, especially if your experiences of them have been amusing or educational.

Look out for issues you feel strongly about. Most people have a few topics that act like a red rag to a bull - if you don't know what yours are, just ask your friends! Or flick through a paper and watch out for news that makes you want to grab your pen and dash off a letter to the editor. Any topic you feel strongly about will make for powerful and sincere writing, and even if you only know a little about the subject, you can always do some research to fill in the gaps.

Stimulate your imagination with something different. I first encountered this technique in a book by Edward de Bono, and it's surprisingly effective for something so simple. Take a word, picture or object at random - from a dictionary, newspaper, or magazine, or even just the first thing that catches your eye when you look up from the page - and find ways to apply it to the problem at hand.

Brainstorm ideas related to your topic. There are few things more demoralising than carefully crafting a talk or article only to discover that it's half the length it should have been and you've run out of material. Start by jotting down any ideas, facts and anecdotes related to the topic, then roughly plan the structure of your talk. Spider diagrams or mind maps are excellent for helping to organise your material (If you haven't used them before, or if you'd like to know more about them, Tony Buzan's The Mind Map Book explains in detail how they work).

Fill the gaps. If you're talking about a subject you're already familiar with, you will probably have most of the information you need, although you might still want to check the odd detail in a reference book or with someone else who knows the subject. If you're researching a subject that's newer to you, you may need to visit the library or search the internet for more information. You may also need to seek out stories or quotations to illustrate some of the points you are making, and as well as dictionaries of quotations, there are a number of web sites which can help you do this. For example, The Internet Movie Database is full of film trivia and quotes, and can help you track down relevant song lyrics.

Get a head start. Now you know you can come up with great ideas at short notice, but why not make life a little easier by getting a head start for next time? Keep these techniques in mind and you'll be amazed how many of the things that happen to you can spark off ideas for your next talk. Keep a notebook and jot them all down, and next time you come to prepare a talk you'll have your own idea store to pick from.

About the Author

Stephanie Cage is a UK-based author of fiction and poetry, as well as several business reports. Read more of her work at

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