As an EIC, a lot of the panicked text messages that I get on a weekly basis revolve around something close to, “I can’t think of anything to write about!” or “I don’t know how to make this idea come to life!” When I’m adding new people to our team, I also get the question, “How do you come up with new ideas every week?” a lot. Obviously, not every idea I have comes easily to me, or is anything close to stellar. In fact, if you were to knock on my bedroom door on a Thursday night, you will probably hear a animal-like roar of frustration emitted as I scribbled away in a notebook filled with half-finished ideas that I didn’t like. However, I have come up with a few tips that really help when you’re in an intellectual traffic jam, and hopefully they will be of some practical use to you, whether you’re writing an essay, an article for Odyssey yourself, or you’re simply trying to get in the habit of journaling more.
1. A pen and paper are the MiraLAX to your writer’s constipation.
Now that you’re sufficiently grossed out by that incredibly graphic metaphor, seriously, just physically handwrite your ideas down. I’ve been journaling for years, but in addition to my close-to-daily scribbles, I write out all of my papers or articles in a notebook with a pen first. Not only does the physical act of writing jump-start the creative process, I also think that my writing is considerably better when I initially hand-write it all. Handwriting takes a lot longer, so you’ll have more time to come up with the words that will best pin your ideas down. Additionally, if you can stick with an article or essay through handwriting it all, that probably means it’s a halfway decent concept.
2. Splurge on a journal that you feel called to.
Much like choosing your spouse, choosing your journal should be a careful, well-thought out, and deeply emotional process. In all seriousness, though, writing should be as enjoyable a process as possible. I treat myself to nice pens, and I try to make sure that my current journal isn’t going to annoy the heck out of me. I mean, I’ve been known to write essays on a stack of paper towels when the muse strikes and my journal is nowhere to be found, but as a general rule, if you love your journal, you’re going to be much more likely to consistently write.
Disclaimer: If you want to start carrying a journal around to remind yourself to write more often, I would suggest something a little more understated. You might love that journal with the brightly colored zebras on it, and if that’s what you’ve fallen in love with, go for it, but if you have an incredibly interesting book with you at all times, people WILL pick it up and just start reading before you can stop them.
3. The length and origin of what you’re writing daily isn’t important.
I used to think that if I didn’t fill up a couple of pages every night in my journal about my incredibly exciting life, I was failing myself as a documenter of the things around me. I would often just stop writing for months at a time because I felt like the stuff I was writing wasn’t good enough to save for all eternity. However, my creative writing professor last year encouraged us to write, no matter what. It doesn’t have to be lengthy, or even original thoughts. The stuff you write down could be a funny conversation that you overheard that day, or something your professor said that you want to remember in the future. Journaling is more of a collection of thoughts you want to save, rather than lengthy documentation in a book. Most of my current journal is actually other people’s stuff, like poems and song lyrics and Tumblr posts that I thought were pretty. The point is just to get something down on paper, not to be profound every single day.
4. Read a lot.
Most of the time, if I’m having trouble coming up with something to write, I turn to my news feed. Nine times out of ten, I can find something to comment on or react to, and, voila, an article idea is born into the world. Reading content that you admire brings the quality of your personal writing up, as well, so not only are you coming up with ideas, but your content itself is better.
5. Talk about the hard stuff.
Bring up controversial topics to the people that you surround yourself with. Not only will you get some really interesting conversation out of it, but exposing yourself to other perspectives can often spark a writing idea. My friends have no idea that most of the time when I’m talking about hard issues, I’m actually just searching for an article idea in their brains. The honest conversations I have with the people around me inspire me, and most of the things I feel most deeply and need to write stems from the people I care about.