If you write a lot like me --or even just occasionally--you'll probably encounter times when you struggle to find topics to write about. You would think it's easy, right? We're bombarded by stories, information, and news, so how hard could it be?
For those times when finding something to write about does become difficult, here are a few suggestions that should help you break-through your creative block, courtesy of Roy Peter Clark, the long-time writing instructor at the Poynter Institute and author of several books about the craft of writing. In his smart book, The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English, Clark offers several suggestions to help you discover topics to write about. Here just five of the tips he offers in his book:
1. Spend a morning in a bagel shop or an afternoon in a bookstore.
"For the price of a cup of coffee and a bagel, you can listen in on the morning's conversations about news and current events, or you can browse new books and magazines at a favorite bookstore for free. A survey will generate an endless stream of story ideas. Any cafe or bookstore is a story-idea machine", writes Clark.
2. Keep a little notebook to compile story ideas.
"Ideas can be elusive -- like fireflies at dusk. You will need a dozen story ideas for every one you eventually execute. You'll need a place to store them. Use whatever suits you, including the notes mode on your mobile phone. I prefer to go old-school: a tiny notebook suitable for pocket or purse."
I used to use the notes app on my iPhone until I switched over to Evernote a couple of years ago and never looked back. The ability to sync up notes between devices and the peace of mind that comes with knowing my writing is safe in the "cloud" is priceless.
3. Read a book on a topic that is unfamiliar to you.
"You should always have 'a book going,' advised Donald Murray, that comes comes from outside your normal field of interest. Because my interests are reading, writing, sports, and language, my 'outside' reading includes works on photography and the visual arts, philosophy and theology, natural science, and applied mathematics. By reading such work, I discover not just specialized content but also story ideas that span more than one field."
4. Break your routine. Go to work or school a different way.
"You may see stories from the vantage point of the main road: construction of a new big-box store, which might bring more traffic and more congestion -- but lower prices. A great offbeat story, on the other hand, is more likely to be found on a side street, off the beaten path...There are stories that come out of Wall Street and others that come out of Main Street, but don't get stuck in that false dichotomy. There are many stories to be found on the side streets and especially, as Bruce Springsteen would tell you, on the backstreets."
5. Interview the oldest person you know, and the youngest.
"Many people are living longer and healthier lives. Someone who was born in 1919, like my mother, has experienced the Depression, World War II, the invention of television, the fall of Soviet Russia, the election of an African American president, and on and on. Such human sources are precious -- and fleeting. They provide testimony for oral histories, and they embody a set of experiences that can be mined for story ideas, both fiction and nonfiction."
"While wisdom, at least on occasion, comes with age, it can also come with youth, and even kids can become sources for story ideas."