10 Ways to Keep Creative Writing Ideas Flowing

by WiseFool

Tips and tricks to keep those creative juices flowing. If inspiration refuses to come to you, how do you get to it?

The clue is in the job title, right? In order to be a 'creative writer', you have to be creative. But sometimes, creativity can be elusive, and that empty page (or dazzlingly white computer screen), is an intimidating sight.

Everybody who writes, or wants to write, experiences peaks and troughs in their output - sometimes the Muse pelts things at you quicker than you can write them down. However, she's a faithless creature, and may abandon you just when you need her most.

The solution: don't depend on the fickle nature of random inspiration. Instead, change the way your mind works. The parts of the brain (and there are many of them), that are abuzz when imagination is at work can be honed and trained just like any other part of the body.

With a little exercise, your creative muscles will be bulging, and writing ideas may abound! So, here are 10 ways to keep that creativity highway teeming with a constant flow of traffic.

1. Become a People Watcher

Watching people can be a great way of stimulating creative writing ideasTake an interest in complete strangers, but not so much of an interest that you get yourself arrested.

What I mean is, when you're in a supermarket, a restaurant, a theater, stuck in a traffic jam, or in any public place, observe those around you and ask yourself what kind of people they are.

In your imagination, give that person a name and try to come up with a little back story. If you're in a supermarket, perhaps the contents of their basket sparks some clue as to the kind of person they are: do they have nothing more than an apple and a bottle of water, or do they have a massive, family-size pack of cookies?

Who are they with? Is that man a friend, a husband, or a lover? Let your mind wander as you create a scenario that could have brought the person to that specific place. For example, is he at the bus stop because his car's broken down? Is she nervously waiting for a blind date at the cafe? Is the couple in the corner of the restaurant quiet because they argued on the way there?

Keep in mind, the object of these little exercises isn't to come up with some dazzling idea that will turn into a bestseller. The aim is simply to encourage your creativity, so don't second guess yourself or dismiss your mind's wanderings just because you don't think it would make a 'great' story.

2. Take an Event or Experience and Change it

Take something that happened to you and alter the events to create a new storyThings are happening all the time; to us and the people we know. And those things are a rich source of creative writing material.

As an exercise, take an experience or event and alter it in some way, so the outcome would be very different from the one you know. 

In other words, if your best friend just got married, imagine if he or she had been stood up at the alter. What would have happened next? 

If your car was almost backed into in the parking lot last week, let your imagination ruminate on what would have happened if the driver hadn't stopped in time.

You get the idea; pick anything, even something completely mundane, like cooking dinner (what if you'd been all out of paprika?), take an aspect of the reality of that event and twist it into something else. 

3. Use Writing Prompts

Because a creative writer should write everyday (more about that further down the page), sometimes you might need a little push to get you started.

Writing prompts are a wonderful way to stimulate those creative juices and force you to get something down, even if it's nothing you would ever use in a story, novel, play, poem...or whatever. 

A prompt is usually a single line that poses a brief writing task. Examples of writing prompts include:

1. If you could create an invention that would benefit the human race, what would it be?

2. Think about the phrase "blur of an ego" and write down ideas or images that come to mind

3. Open a magazine and build a story around the first image you see

4. If hunger was visible, what would it look like?

5. Write a piece of flash fiction (100-500 words), starting with the line, "there was nothing left to say"

Often what you create during these exercises will be messy and disjointed - that's okay. You're not attempting to write a polished product, you're just giving your brain a workout.

Having said that, messy as these exercises may be, I highly recommend keeping all of this work in a notepad or file, because they could well spark fresh ideas in the future.

4. Read Newspapers and Watch the News

Get creative writing ideas by reading the newspaperAll good writers are also good readers, that is a fact.

Now, you can read anything and it will do your imagination, and writing, the power of good. However, I highly recommend keeping abreast of current affairs. Personally, I prefer an actual, physical newspaper (not a tabloid), but what matters is that you're filling your head with as much potential story material as possible - precisely where you get it isn't as important. 

Often, creative writing ideas can be sparked by something that's going on in the world. For instance, you might be inspired by current events in Syria or Ukraine. But it doesn't have to be an event of huge significance, some small, local story about a man whose life was saved by his pet rabbit might be equally helpful in triggering an idea.

Don't be afraid to take a news story that interests you, or speaks to you in some way, and change it: change the outcome, change the location, change the person it happened to, change as much or as little as you want until you've made it your own. 

5. Read Anything You Can Get Your Hands On

Reading is a great way to find creative writing inspirationRead anything and everything!

Having said I shy away from tabloids, there's nothing wrong with flicking through one if it happens to be laying around in a waiting room or someone else's home. After all, you don't have to agree with the reporting style to pick up a flash of inspiration.

Other than ideas, the wonderful thing you get from reading is words.

Words, words, words...Eliza Doolittle may have become sick of them, but they are the very lifeblood of a writer. And words can also provide a springboard for creativity. 

For example, you might stumble across an unusual word, like 'floccinaucinihilipilification' (the action or habit of regarding something as worthless). In turn, you may wonder about the kind of person who would use that word - is he/she an interesting character, someone who could have a story built around them?

6. Keep a Journal

You don't have to be as prolific as Samuel Pepys to make good use of a diaryIn order to keep your writing hand 'in' by writing every day, a journal can be incredibly useful.

The other benefit of keeping a diary of some description is that you have a record of places, people and experiences to draw back on if you're looking for creative writing inspiration.

A journal doesn't have to be particularity organized, it can be nothing more than a string of notes. Maybe one entry will just be a short list of words that captured your attention that day; it doesn't need to be formalized, just go with the flow.

Similarly, you don't need to have a specific book for your journaling - you might just write on scraps of paper. However, I think there's something very appealing about a nicely bound, thick covered diary.

The other tip I'd offer is to keep your journal by your bed for those late night or early morning flashes of inspiration. Alternatively, you might want to look at a night-time notepad specifically for the purpose.   

Night-Time Note Pad for Those Semi-Conscious Flashes of Inspiration

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7. Use Overheard Conversations

Creative writing ideas can be found in snatches of overheard conversationSimilar to people watching, people listening can provide a wealth of unexpected ideas.

Ever overheard two friends talking about their night out and wondered what the heck must have been going on at that party?

Something else to be picked up from listening to snippets of strangers' conversations is a feel for the way people talk. We each have different patterns and habits of speech, and it's easy to fall into the trap of making all of your characters talk like you.

If you're writing a play (or even a novel), getting a good grasp of realistic dialogue, and different speech patterns can be immensely helpful.

Keep some kind of writing equipment with you at all times (this is where the cell phone comes in very handy), and make a note of any words or phrases that strike you as interesting.

8. Brainstorm

Let creative writing ideas flow with regular brainstorming sessionsBrainstorming is really just the act of letting your mind spew out any old thing that happens to be dwelling in it. Don't overthink it, don't second guess it, just let it all flow.

Keep things simple, because you're not looking to flesh any one idea out at this stage, you should just being trying to keep up with your mind.

You're flow of ideas might go something like this:

  • During therapy for his claustrophobia, a man gets stuck in a lift
  • A research lab assistant is working late at night when an animal rights activist breaks in
  • Following the death of her husband, a woman discovers he had another wife and family

There are a couple of ways to approach brainstorming ideas for creative writing, the first is to set a timer (give yourself five minutes, for example), and keep writing until the time's up. The second way is to set a figure in your mind (say 50 ideas), and don't stop until you reach that goal.

Don't worry too much about the ideas being 'good' - in fact, don't worry at all about the quality, just keep scribbling.

Typically, what you'll find is that the ideas get better as you go along. The first half or so might be real stinkers, but you'll hit your stride and may come up with some things that are worth expanding.

Remember, no one else ever has to see any of this, so don't allow self-consciousness to stop the flow of ideas. 

9. Write Something Every Day...Even if it's Terrible

Creative writing requires that you writeIt's easy to make the mistake of thinking you need to be 'in the mood' to write.

And, of course, there's no denying, when the mood strikes, you're likely to be more productive and turn out work of better quality.

However, keeping your creativity flowing is not so much about producing good quality sentences as it is about just keeping the brain active and well-oiled.

So, it's important to write every day, even when you're not in the mood...and even when what you're writing is downright dire.

Just write for yourself; make a few notes in your journal, complete a few writing prompt exercises, or brainstorm. What you produce each day doesn't have to be of a standard fit for anyone else to view, but it's served its purpose just by being. 

10. Don't Censor Yourself!

Don' let the gate keepers of your mind block the flow of creativityThe aim of every single one of the exercises, tricks and tips above is simple: to remove the blocks which prevent the flow of creativity that is inbuilt in each and every one of us. 

Think back to your childhood and how free your imagination used to be; every object could be turned into something else, make believe came easy, and you never once paused to think, 'do I look weird doing this?' 

At some point, though, our brains stop functioning that way and start to filter what they will and won't let in. Watchers at the gate of the mind, as Friedrich Schiller referred to them, are put in place to stop streams of creativity, because they could be perceived as madness. Let's be honest, they are a sort of madness.

In order to be creative, we have to kill off those watchers and let the 'madness' rush in.

Yes, observing a complete stranger in a department store and imagining a scenario around which she brought that hideous hot pink blouse might seem a little nutty. Sure, it goes against what our mature brains tell us is appropriate, but, if we practice enough at these things that feel weird and unfamiliar, the natural flow of creativity we experience as children will come back.

It's that childlike (not childish), sense of fun with the amazing things our minds are capable of that you're trying to reclaim. And once you do, you'll find that creative writing ideas flow to you with relative ease.

More Creative Writing Tips

Many of us will have ideas that seem to make a good premise for a story, but how do you take that spark of inspiration and create a full novel from it?
Exposition is important, and can even be vital, to your short story, novel or play. However, if handled incorrectly or clumsily, it can verge on painful for your reader.
Do you want to write a novel or short story with suspense, action, intrigue and realistic drama?
Updated: 05/01/2014, WiseFool
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blackspanielgallery on 04/17/2016

Sometimes I see something and it just triggers an idea, which might just use part of what I have observed and an imagination.

RuthCox on 09/26/2014

I am all for that #10 Motivational Madness factor! Truly some great creative writing tips listed here. Thank you!

WiseFool on 05/10/2014

Hi, Mira. Thanks so much for your kind remarks; I'm really pleased that you found some of the tips useful. Thanks also for suggestions for future pieces. Actually, I was thinking about writing a Wizz on plot development, so it's good to know that's something you'd want to read.

Mira on 05/10/2014

Your suggestions are so good, Sam! I like that you started with "Become a people watcher." I was thinking about it the other day, too. People are really so very interesting to watch, even if you glimpse them for a moment. (Watching doesn't have to be creepy :-))

Your second suggestion, "Take an event and change it," is also very, very good. Novels should involve your imagination a lot. It's also fun to play with the plot, since people do expect a good plot. Which I'm having trouble with at the moment. Your suggestions would be so helpful (to me and many other people, I imagine). Hope you have time at one point to write some more on plot development and how to keep a plot both creative and well put together.

WiseFool on 05/03/2014

Hi, Mira. Thanks for the kind comment. When I say writing everyday, it doesn't necessarily mean writing a lot; could just be a paragraph. But, of course, not all of the techniques will work for everybody. And, as you quite rightly point out, taking time away from your desk to do other things is equally important!

Mira on 05/03/2014

These are great ideas. Writing every day doesn't work for me though, unless that's all I do. Mixing projects and energies is killing my writing. However, if I have a stretch of time to devote to my interests (for the most part), I find I'm more inspired than I thought I could be. But it doesn't come out of thin air: I read, I watch people, I watch movies, I take time to think about dreams and emotions, and so on.

WiseFool on 05/03/2014

Thanks, Kathleen, Dustytoes and Natural_Skin_Care. Glad you enjoyed it.

Yeah, WordChazer, that's very true, one idea will often bounce into another. And, I find, even if it doesn't, taking a break from one thing and letting your brain focus on something else can really help free up some of your creativity, and suddenly the solution to something that's been bugging you can seem obvious. Counterintuitive, but true.

KathleenDuffy on 05/03/2014

Thanks so much for this, there are some brilliant tips here - and I will use some of them! :)

dustytoes on 05/02/2014

This was such an interesting page, and I don't long to be a writer. But I know that writing well is important, once you decide to put it out there. Over the years as I've blogged and written articles, I've seen definite improvements in my style. I love your suggestions to becoming a more creative writer.

Natural_Skin_Care on 05/01/2014

This is good - all my bad habits laid out for me :) I'm especially bad about censoring myself.

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