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How to come up with ideas wherever you are

Three creative writing tools that will help you come up with ideas

In this series of posts I’m looking at three creative writing tools that will help you come up with ideas. Here’s the next one.

How to come up with ideas using observation

In the first post in this series I talked about freewriting. The second tool creative writers use to their advantage, which can help content writers too, is this one. It might sound too simple at first: it’s observation. It is a kind of mindfulness for writers but you don’t actually have to be into mindfulness and meditation for it to work for you.

Think of this as noticing things. Noticing things involves a) using all of your sense b) specificity.

A quick exercise

Stop now and do this quick exercise. What can you see? What can you hear? What can you smell? What can you touch? What can you taste? Now look at your answers and try to get more specific. If you wrote ‘tree’ for what you can see, try to get in closer. Get to the detail.

Right now I can see my son playing on his computer game, a guitar, the tree outside the window, a stack of paperwork, books, the recycling waiting to be taken outside, a pile of lego – I could go on. I can hear a helicopter, building work, the music from the computer game, and one of the cats trying to get more breakfast out of my wife. I can smell bacon and the faint smell of washing up liquid on my hands. I can taste coffee. I can feel sofa cushions, and the keyboard under my fingers.

Using specificity

How would I get more specific? My son is playing geometry dash and the music is tinny and repetitive, he keeps getting frustrated because the level he’s on is hard to beat, I’m having to stop every so often and tell him that it sounds frustrating, and tell him to keep going, all he needs is practice.

Or I could look in detail at one of the newspaper stories in the pile of newspapers waiting to go out to the recycling, or the smell of washing up liquid and the taste of coffee could set me reminiscing about the time I worked washing up in a cafeteria.

Specificity doesn’t have to take you off on a long deviation though, it simply means get closer, what colour and design are the cushions? What kind of cat? How old? How many tress and what kind? Which books?

Ideas please!

How does this help generate ideas? Firstly, you can do it wherever you are at any time of day. Take five to notice things, using the senses and specificity. Then come up with ideas based on the results. Secondly, our brains like connecting concepts together. Have a look at the list of things I just noticed (and I am literally just sitting on the sofa in my house!) what could I write about? Decide for yourself and then take a look at what I came up with below.

  • Frustration
  • Why failure is an important part of learning
  • How to keep going
  • Practice
  • The news stories in front of me
  • How to declutter (or how I’ve failed to declutter!)
  • How far I’ve come since working in that cafeteria washing up
  • The story story I wrote about the cafeteria I worked in and how I successfully pitched it to a radio show
  • The importance of (coffee) breaks
  • Whether drinking coffee makes you a better writer (Dorothea Brande claims it does in Becoming a Writer)
  • Why it’s important to support fair trade initiatives
  • Habit stacking (an idea I read about in James Clear’s Atomic Habits) – whether your writing habit could be paired to an existing habit like drinking your morning coffee

I could keep going. What I’ve done here is I’ve paired an observation with something about me or something I know about. This took me hardly any time (and I did it while sitting on the sofa) partly because I used myself and what’s around me and partly because I didn’t censor the ideas as I went. I know I can narrow them down later, according to what I need.

Don’t stay comfortable

Note this process doesn’t have to be comfortable or pleasant. If you can hear heavy traffic and smell exhaust fumes, write that. In fact, if the result is unpleasant it suggests a problem and problems are brilliant for coming up with ideas. You simply have to ask how could I (or my readers) solve X problem or how have others tried to solve this problem on the past, and rift on that.

Here’s the next post in this series.

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Louise xx

P.S. If you’re a blogger and want more on coming up with ideas for your blog, go here.



  1. Jeannie says:

    Great ideas and this helps you to be more observant arround surroundings that can help you come up with ideas

    1. Louise Tondeur says:

      Thanks. Yes it’s definitely about becoming more observant.

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