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Writing Ideas Unlimited

Bob McElwain, Guest Author

About once a week, someone asks, "Where do you get ideas for your articles? I can never seem to think of anything."

Ask this of anyone who has been writing for a time and you'll discover most have a way of tracking ideas as they come to mind. In my case, I write them down. Only a word, maybe. Or phrase. Anything to remind me of the fleeting thought just encountered.

Our minds are always at work, consciously and unconsciously. Sure, a lot of the notions that flit across the mental screen are nonsense, daydreams, memories, or half-baked notions with which we don't connect. But no matter how well you are able to focus, to concentrate on what you are about, extraneous thoughts flow almost continuously. Take a moment to capture those of interest.

Collecting Your Thoughts

Keep paper and pencil handy to wherever you may be. On your desk. Close to your favorite chair. On the table you prefer when taking a break. I often have a thought while driving, pull to the side of the road, jot it down, then get on.

Nothing in these notes is of itself an article. But collectively there will be many that can evolve from them.

The secret is in writing it down right now. If you wait until later, you'll overlook many of those fleeting thoughts. And they may never occur to you again.

Flesh Them Out

Notes become meaningless unless the thought that triggered it is expanded. And soon. Tomorrow may be too late, particularly if you jotted down only a word.

One approach in use for hundreds of years is to keep a ledger. Not a diary. Just thoughts and questions ordered as they came to mind. I used this method for years. Now, however, I find it easier to use a computer.

The Always Open File

Whenever I turn my computer on, one file is always open. Call it Notes. Or something exotic, maybe. Wander about now and then and collect earlier scribbling. Go through your pockets for stuff collected there.

My approach is to break into the file at any point and type xx on the left margin. Then enter a note. Another xx, and another note. In each case I try to add enough about the idea to assure I'll recognize it a month or more from now.

Sometimes half a sentence gets it done. Or a brief paragraph. Often I'll just keep pounding away and end up with 500 words or more.

I write when in the mood to do so. While some do, I personally don't produce my best work under pressure. So I set aside blocks of time, usually early in the day when the clutter of things that must be done is not so pressing.

Often when I start in, I have an idea I've been thinking about. If not, I scan my Notes file, searching on xx. I'm not looking for anything in particular. Just trying to recall my thinking when I made that note. I pause and add a bit to an item now and then. And sometimes quite a lot.

Essentially this scanning is a writing process. After a time, I have larger segments which are almost articles.

Creating The Article

Upon rare occasions, a good article virtually flows from my mind through my fingers onto the screen. But usually what I end up with is a good idea that doesn't quite make it.

I may return to it later with fresh eyes. Or if it's close, I'll print it right now, and study it over a cup of coffee. Often this leads to notes that are sufficient to tie up the loose ends that were bothering me.

But in all cases, I edit, rewrite, and read out loud repeatedly, until satisfied with the piece. Only then does it go into my "GoodArts" file, ready to be dropped into a future newsletter.

The Dreaded Blank Page Syndrome

The above wording dates back to inserting a blank piece of paper into a typewriter. Opening a new file on a computer amounts to the same thing. What you're looking at is empty space without a clue about what to say.

Some call this "writers block," and tons and tons of stuff have been written about how to avoid this terrible fate. While this happens to me now and then, it doesn't stop me for long.

First, there's that lovely Notes file. It's tough to scan near a half a meg of text and not come up with at least a starting point. And there's all those half finished bits.

If this fails, the secret is to just start in. Type a nursery rhyme if nothing else comes to mind. Begin a letter to a friend. Take a current news items. What are the implications of the downturn in the economy? What's it mean for folks who already have a business? What's it mean to those just thinking about getting started? Visit a site you recently book marked. One such as is simply loaded with great stuff.

Grab a thought, then expand on it. Type as hard and fast as you can, putting down everything that comes to mind. And don't stop. Push it as long as possible.

Results Can Be Startling

There are two possible outcomes. When you go back and read what is largely garbage, you may find several related ideas that can be drawn together as a good start. If so, copy them down and go to it.

Frequently, though, you will find you have drifted onto a topic and developed some good ideas. From them you are able to directly create a good piece.

How This Article Came To Be

When I discovered my stack of articles ready to go was getting low, I turned to my Notes file. A couple of screens down, I found the question about how to find ideas. I had kept it and part of a reply. After expanding on these notes, I had much more than you have read here. Much too much. And not well ordered.

What you're reading came from cutting, reorganization, editing, and polishing the original text hastily typed.

Become An Idea-PackRat

Jot down everything. Add it to a file of stuff that might be unintelligible to anyone but you. Work this file now and then, adding further thoughts. When you need an article, scan this file. If nothing strikes you, open a new file and start writing. Anything.


Copyright © - Bob McElwain. - Reprinted with permission. Bob McElwain, is the author of "Your Path To Success" and "Secrets To A Really Successful Website."


  If you would like to talk one-on-one with Larry James about issues related to this article, you are invited to arrange for a private coaching session by telephone. Go to Author & Speaker Coaching for specific details and fees.

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