Where to find ideas

As our friends over at The Urban Muse pointed out in a recent post, the best place for ideas—whether for creative writing, articles, or research topics—might be in the only place you don’t look.

Check out the f-o-o-t-n-o-t-e-s!

Scholarly articles are full of footnotes—those little morsels that the author couldn’t include, but couldn’t quite do without—and many magazine and news articles include such asides within the writing.

As Susan Johnston writes in her blog, “Take the actress who offhandedly mentions her vegetarianism in an interview about her latest movie (Bingo! Call The Vegetarian Times!). Or the article on another topic that happens to include a statistic about how seniors are the fastest growing group of gym members (AARP, anyone?). Or the name of a new book mentioned in the class notes of your alma mater.”

This thinking could just as easily apply to research projects. Beyond footnotes, dig into those citations! Reading and following up on the “works cited” of smaller articles has been the single most useful tool I have used to inspire larger research projects. You’d be amazed how much work has already been done for you out there… you just need to follow the breadcrumbs.

And as for creative writing? What could be more inspiring than reading the newspaper or other authors’ work? If that doesn’t move you, try listening to the people around you—friends, strangers, workers—and really listen. Take notes. Scribble impressions.

Go for a walk. Make up a lie. Look at a painting and invent the whole story behind it. There’s a lot of quirky and stunning stuff out there. First lines, fragments, and plot twists are all around you; writing doesn’t all have to come from within. Usually the best inspiration is outside of you, waiting to be observed.

The world is full of these bits and pieces, and it is up to you to pick them up and put them together.

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