Friday, December 29, 2006
Writing: Generating Ideas For Articles
By Donovan Baldwin
A couple of points before we get to the meat of this article:
1. I write informational articles, and I focus on that. That having been said, some of the techniques here could kick start the blocked brain of any writer; fiction, non-fiction, essay, poetry, advertising copy, and just about any other field you might think of.
2. Ideas come at strange times and from weird sources, so you need to be prepared. The idea that pops into your head at a party while chatting up a possible future ex-something can go away before you get home, sleep three hours, and take the morning alka-seltzer. Therefore:
- Always have something to write on and with, and don't hesitate to use them. Hey, you're a writer! That's part of the mystique, right? okay, just think of it as a socially acceptable way to snub someone. If they are that big a fool, they will probably make a good character in a story, or case study. By the way, ever wake up at 3AM with a great idea, go back to sleep, and wake up again at 6 AM and not be able to remember anything about the world's greatest idea? Write it down!
- Take a look at mini-recorders. It took me a while to remember that I had one with me, and even longer to find the button, but once I got that down I was capturing several ideas a day. Don't try to outline the entire plot and cast of characters, just get the idea down.
- Always be on the alert for ideas. They won't always come to you. You will probably have to go looking for them, and you may need to move some shrubbery to see them. They are elusive little buggers, but they are everywhere. Track 'em down!
Now let's talk about generating ideas.
As mentioned above, ideas can come at weird times and from some off-the-wall sources. My wife and I often preface a remark with the phrase, "rabbit trail". That lets the other know that the next remark will not seem to have anything to do with the previous conversation. The human mind is like that, especially the creative mind. A stop sign can make me think of a big German policeman with a machine gun, which leads me to think about the times I got to fire the LAW (Light Anti-Tank Weapon) in the Army, which makes me think of Clint Eastwood's slip in one of the Dirty Harry movies, which makes me think of California...you get the idea.
Somewhere in all of that is an idea. Be prepared to pounce on it and make it into something.
Whatever technique you are using, get it down on paper. You may look back at notes you made last night or two years ago and have a story or article idea staring you in the face. Even if you start and it peters out, you might come back to it again and make it into something. Be flexible here. Just because you began the story in Antarctica doesn't mean you can't transplant the whole thing to Wisconsin if that makes better sense.
Places I get (or have gotten) ideas:
- Road Signs: I'm not just talking about speed limit signs. There are hundreds of billboards with mini-stories along the highways. People put up odd or interesting signs on their business. Remember those rabbit trails? As an aside; years ago my wife and I traveled extensively all over the U. S. I always loved a certain part of California Highway 99, because there is a road sign for "Seventh Standard" road. I don't know about you, but I can just see Grisham or Ludlum (were he still alive), launching an entire thriller with those two words.
- Conversations: Again, as mentioned, a conversation can have an idea embedded. Of course you are looking for ideas in conversations, but do you ever bother to start any? Turn on CNN and listen to some interviews. If you have convictions about, or interest in, any of the topics, you will probably generate an idea or two.
- Dictionaries and Encyclopedias: I don't know about you, but often, one word is all it takes to trigger an idea. Many times I have generated entire articles and poems just by reading the dictionary.
- Books: It doesn't matter what book, who wrote it, or what it is about. If you are out of ideas, pick any book, magazine, or twenty-cent-off coupon you have nearby and start reading. It doesn't matter where you start. One good thing about this random approach is that it takes you away from clues, hints, preconceived notions, and trails with which the author has been constructing his or her version of whatever the subject may be. This allows you to take the material from the second sentence of the third paragraph on page 97 and see it with your eyes and begin to draw your conclusions and construct your own reality about it. By the way, I love wandering through used book stores, especially in the cheap book aisles. Sometimes just the topic and titles suggest ideas to me.
- Reminisce: Pull out the photographs. Think about the old times. Don't just stick with the good times. Think about sad times as well. Believe it or not, I got an idea for an article on social injustice while writing the previous two sentences. As an adolescent, I buried my first dog, Mike, in the woods near my house when he died. Later the local Catholic church, which bought the land, erected a convent over the spot. I buried him on a trail through the woods. The trail was used by local poor people to cut through a neighborhood that would have eyed them with suspicion. Like I said, "Rabbit Trail"! It's an idea. Who knows what I will do with it later?
- Quotations: This is my all-time favorite, but that's me. I react favorably to capsules of wisdom or wit, and reading through a series of them will almost always trigger an idea or two. Recently, a couple of quotes caught my eye, and I have already written five articles on the area of "success" and have ideas for four more. The five I have written so far have been well received. This may work better for me than for a novelist, but who knows?
- Write: Just put pen to paper every day and write something. Even if it doesn't come to anything itself, it may trigger an idea. If you simply cannot come up with a single coherent thought on any subject at all, get one of those books I mentioned earlier, and just start copying. Remember what I said about wandering around the used book store? I love to pick up those one and two dollar specials on the bargain tables. You would be surprised at the fresh outlook you often get from the authors nobody ever heard of. Oh, yeah! It's also good for your self-esteem. You can sometimes honestly say, "I can write better than this guy!"
You probably can, you know. Why don't you go and write something right now?
Donovan Baldwin is a Dallas area writer and network marketing professional. A University Of West Florida alumnus (1973) with a BA in accounting, he is a member of Mensa and has held several managerial positions. After retiring from the U. S. Army in 1995, he became interested in internet marketing and developed various online businesses. He has been writing poetry, articles, and essays for over 40 years, and now frequently publishes articles on his own websites and for use by other webmasters. He posts many of his articles on health at http://nodiet4me.blogspot.com/ and many business related articles at http://www.donovanbaldwin.blogspot.com
. He is the owner of TexasPrepaidCellular.com.
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