By following these four simple steps writers should always be ready to write
A common complaint among writers is not knowing what to write. With a dearth of ideas they procrastinate, wasting time at the keyboard or even failing to sit down. They wait for inspiration or need a looming deadline to motivate them. And this is seldom the situation to produce our best work.
By knowing what to write next, we can avoid not writing when we intend to write. Here are four tips:
1) Don’t Trust Your Memory: I used to think I could remember my great ideas. Sometimes I did; usually, I didn’t. For a while, I deluded myself into thinking the good ideas would come back. I don’t think they did. I’ve lost many a blog post this way but no more. Now I document my ideas.
Once I envisioned a novel. I had a theme, an arc, a chapter outline, the characters, pivotal dialogue, and plot twists. It was so clear, so compelling, that I thought I would remember it forever. I was wrong. After a few distractions over a couple of weeks, I forgot everything except a vague concept and the opening line: “George was dead.” And so was the novel. Instead, I should have made notes along the way.
2) Keep a List: Since I no longer rely on my memory to keep my ideas alive, I have a running list. Actually I have multiple lists: one for blog posts, another for short stories, one for each content marketing client, and another one for book ideas. These lists have a mixture of ideas, concepts, titles, talking points, or an outline. As an item on my book list takes shape over time, I’ll pull it off the list and give it its own file.
With these resources at my ready, I always have something to write.
3) Do It Right Away: It amazes me how fleeting an idea can be, especially if two or more hit me at once. Write down ideas on your list as soon as they come to you; don’t delay. My list is on my computer, and if I can’t access my computer when the idea comes to me, I note it on my smartphone, leave a voicemail message, scribble a note, or repeat the idea until I can document it.
Often ideas will come to me when I am working on something else. For example, the four points of this post came to me a couple of weeks ago when writing a different one. I jotted them down and will have them for later. And a title and outline for a future post just came to me now.
4) Know Your Key Idea Times: When I finish one piece it is often the best time to make notes for the next one. I have finished writing, but my mind is still in a creative mode. That’s when new ideas often come. The shower is another idea-generating place for me, as is going for a walk or doing any mindless activity. By being especially alert to these key moments, I am looking for ideas and primed to capture them.
However, these are all backup systems for me. Often when I sit down to write, I ask myself, “What do you feel like writing today?” Usually, a fresh thought will hit me within seconds, and then I write. If nothing comes to mind I pull up my idea list and pick one of the items there.
Either way, I am able to immediately write when it is time to do so.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.