4 Ways to Always Have Fresh Writing Ideas
Often, when people say, “I don’t know what to write,” they really mean one of two things: They haven’t spent enough time formulating their ideas, or they’re trying to write something they don’t really believe in.
Many years ago, I started writing fiction — or rather, I tried to start writing fiction. My attempts never amounted to anything, and for years, I didn’t understand why. It wasn’t until I read an essay on writing by Arthur Schopenhauer, the German pessimist, that it finally clicked. “There are above all two kinds of writers,” he wrote: “those who write for the sake of what they have to say and those who write for the sake of writing. The former have had ideas or experiences which seem to them worth communicating; the latter need money and that is why they write — for money.” (I think “money” can be substituted with “any external rewards” here.)
You know writing from that second category when you see it — whether it’s a news feature, a personal essay, or a blog post. It’s the kind that seems pointless, devoid of energy or care, as if the writer was not considering at all what the reader might want or need to get out of it. When I read this kind of writing I think, Why write this at all?
Of course, many of us write for money or recognition. Writing is a trade as well as a craft. But a good writer also writes what they write, the way they write, because they have experienced something in life, or because they’ve realized something they can’t hide from the world. This might be a specific experience or story they want to share, or it might be observations about how humans operate — the key is, they have something to say.
You might think, “Okay, but who am I to think people care what I have to say?”
You’re an individual with a voice! In that regard, there’s no difference between you and Ernest Hemingway. Well, hopefully, you drink less, and probably you haven’t traveled the world as a foreign correspondent. But you know what I mean — writers are just people who notice and record. As Flannery O’Connor said, “anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”
Still, sometimes you sit down to write and the ideas don’t flow. You likely just haven’t formed the thought yet, or you don’t have the right writing strategy to express yourself. In those cases, you simply need new input. Here are four ways to help you figure out what you have to say:
Consume good quality information
I love reading books and articles that make me think. Stuff that helps me to glean new insights. Here’s a reading list of books I highly recommend to jump-start your brain. The books are arranged according to 11 categories, so you can pick something that interests you.
Do your own research and experiments
The best stories come from people who speak from experience. That’s one of the main reasons I was attracted to Hemingway’s work: The man did a lot of things in his life. But you don’t need to fight in a war, travel the world, or have grand adventures to have an interesting life; it’s about being original in how you approach your own life, whatever it looks like.
Practice clarifying your thoughts
Every day, practice formulating your thoughts in a clear and concise way. You don’t necessarily have to write every day. You can work this practice into your everyday life: When you speak to people, take a few seconds to think before you speak. And when you’re done communicating your message, let yourself be done. Often, we go on and on to make ourselves clear. Have the courage to say something and stop. Just see how the other person responds.
Figure out your purpose
If your work is genuinely helpful, it’s valuable. I’ve discarded a lot of my own writing because it wasn’t useful. A writer needs to take the reader’s time seriously.
We all know what it feels like to read works where it seemed like the writer cared more about getting something down than saying something worthwhile.
If you lack inspiration, try introspection. What have you learned from your past failures or successes? What insights or feelings do you want to express after experiencing your greatest tragedies or the luckiest fortunes?
Writing is a form of expression. If you can write about past experiences in a way that a reader can relate to and learn from, then you’ve done your job.
Even if you’re writing mainly to earn more, if your work is genuinely helpful, it’s valuable. But be willing to give up everything to stay true to yourself. That’s how we can stay genuine.
Definite and clear writing ensures you didn’t waste your reader’s time.
Write your truth. Write what you actually mean and believe. That’s the only writing worth reading.