Idea Mining for Writers 101

Want to write an article or book, but are stuck for ideas? Here are a few practical ways to awaken that muse.

- Keep a writer's journal. A hardcover notebook will do nicely for keeping entries on a variety of topics including, but are not limited to: problems, daydreams, quotes, bits of conversations from "real life" or your characters, character sketches, anecdotes about you, your family and friends, jokes and quotes that caught your attention, names of books that you plan to read and have read, the newest craze, letters that you wish you wrote to the editor but didn't, reasons why something did or didn't work out, musings about trends, the good old days, cute quotes from the kids, frustrations, interesting stuff that you heard on the radio or TV. For example, I heard about a guy who was shaving his head while driving at 80 mph on the highway and another who was changing his wardrobe while driving at about the same speed on a radio talk show. These tidbits might be great triggers for a short story or novel, especially if you can create answers explaining why and/or how these guys could do that.

- Visit the bookstore. But carry a little notebook and a pen. Then browse, taking note of books whose titles grabbed your attention. What else would these books' audiences appreciate knowing? What bestsellers attracted your attention? What are the names of the newest magazines? What aisles haven't you explored yet? What kinds of books do people seem to pick up and read? What book might you have been looking for, but couldn't find? Did you ask the bookstore's customer service about ordering it? And while you were at it, did you remember to ask the sales associate if books like that are popular?

- Take inventory of your life and experiences. Where did you go to school? What were your best and worst subjects? What kinds of jobs have you held? What subject did you major in and what degrees did you earn? What do you love to do and would do it for free? What are your hobbies? What sports do you enjoy? What do you do especially well? What kind of work experience do you have? What were your favorite jobs? What were your least favorite jobs and why? What problems did you and your colleagues solve? Were you ever fired? Are you working now? Are you an entrepreneur? What clubs and associations have you joined? Are you married or single? How many children do you have? Have you ever traveled, and if so, where?

As you take inventory and gather information, think about who else would be interested and why. While you are at it, make a list of possible audiences, such as bosses, colleagues, friends, lawyers, teachers, and so on. Give yourself time to think about what you have and how you can capitalize on it. Create a few titles just for fun, then choose one that excites you the most and start freewriting. Who knows? You may be creating that next article or book!

Dorothy Zjawin has capitalized on her teaching experience and has had 30 articles published by Instructor and a book, Teaching Ideas for the Come-Alive Classroom published by Parker Pub. Co./Prentice-Hall. Her website, http://www.profitable-pen.com, has other ideas and a free forum. Have a question about writing? Feel free to contact Dorothy!

In The News:

A Passion for Writing  CounterPunch
In Praise of 'Bad' Academic Writing  The Chronicle of Higher Education
The Heavy Unseen Labor of Writing Reference Letters  The Chronicle of Higher Education
Morehead Writing Project hosts Teen Writers Day Out  Morehead State University News
Tinker, Tailor, Writer, Spy  The New York Times
Scholars Talk Writing: TJ Stiles  The Chronicle of Higher Education

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