How do writers find their ideas?
March 2, 2008 12:31 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for book recommendations that deal with (fully or partially) methods writers use to find interesting, fresh subjects and ideas for stories.

By stories I mean non-fiction magazine or newspaper-style articles. I'm not interested in the actual writing process, but the various methods that writers use to find unique subjects and topics and angles to write about.

Failing that, articles (instead of books) dealing with this subject would work too.

If even that doesn't exist, could you tell me, dear writer, your own method for finding interesting stories to write about?

posted by nitsuj to Writing & Language (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly, um...stuff I'm reading, about ANYTHING, may trigger some idea in my head. That's about how it works. There's no Idea Store writers go to, unless you consider life to be the Idea Store. Hell, I got a plot idea one time from having a conversation with a drunk friend about why don't I have any tattoos. You read something, think "That doesn't sound right," or "That's weird," or "What if..." and things go on from there.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:48 PM on March 2, 2008

I have a copy of "Freelancer's Treasury of Article Ideas" by Frank A. Dickson.

For every day of the year, it shows you two or three historical events for that day and three article ideas. It's from 1961 and some of the ideas are a bit antiquated, but in general you will find something to provide a spark.

Amazon has used copies for under $5.
posted by sciatica at 6:27 PM on March 2, 2008

The Writer's Block is 1/3 filled with this sort of thing.
posted by divabat at 2:45 AM on March 3, 2008

Not to be (too) snarky, Ze Frank, who produced a year-long web series called The Show, dealt with this in one of his more popular episodes, called "brain crack"[flash video].

silly, perhaps, but I find it incredibly inspirational... message: ideas come from everywhere; get them out as soon as possible
posted by zachxman at 6:22 AM on March 3, 2008

I used to be a guest columnist for a newspaper, which meant I had a lot of leeway in the way of story ideas. Once in a while they would give me books from small publishers to review, but for the most part, I either wrote about what I knew or looked around town to see what was happening.

For instance, I wrote a piece about weblogs when they first became popular, I wrote about some old houses getting torn down to make way for a municipal building, local attractions, and anything I thought the general public would be interested in. I stayed away from politics and news items because they already had people assigned to those types of stories.

The way I came up with the house story was from driving by and seeing these old Victorians half torn down. Local attractions, I knew some people who invited me to come see them and spun it as a way for people to get involved in their community.

I'd say get curious: ask why something is the way it is and then do your research. Write about your experiences and talk to people. For one of my stories, I was talking to a guy who worked at a greenhouse and turned out he was a blacksmith and there's a whole society of blacksmiths. Another guy, he came into a place where I was volunteering and I thought he was in construction and turned out he used to play for the NY Jets. Everyone's got a story. You just have to ask.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:01 AM on March 3, 2008

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