Miss Write's Advice: how to find inspiration

Miss Write
Category: Writing

We asked you to send us your writing problems, and you responded. We passed the first batch of queries and dilemmas to our brand new Writing Agony Aunt Miss Write, and below is the one that she has picked to answer. Miss Write will be here every month with another answer to another problem, so if you have a burning writerly complaint, send it our way.




The Question

I love writing and if you give me a theme I am fine but I have trouble finding things to write about! Any suggestions? Ruan Peat


Miss Write's Answer

Coming up with something to write about can be difficult. That’s why it’s vital to my creative process that I spend a good chunk of the day staring into space or gazing out of the nearest window (the most distracting invention known to man). But inspiration can actually be found everywhere and you don’t need to be tied down by a theme. Sometimes, it’s best to remind yourself to keep it simple.

Here are my top five tips for developing genius writing ideas*:


1.    People watching

Ah, one of my very favourite things. All you have to do is find a good spot - a café, train platform or supermarket aisle, for example - and pay closer attention to what’s going on around you. The truth really is stranger than fiction and you’ll find fully formed characters providing great sound bites within minutes. Just remember staring is considered rude and if you’re in a café order a cup of tea or something. You don’t want to look weird, after all. 

2.    Take a notebook everywhere

It might seem like an obvious point, but make sure you’ve got a notebook handy at all times. If you do your best thinking in the shower, position a pen and paper within easy reach (I’d advise you only to do this once you’re dry though). These scribbles might not be an obvious story at first, but I can guarantee you’ll end up using them eventually. Loved that weird street name? Overheard a funny observation? Worked through a plot hole? Write it down.

3.    Freewriting

The blank page is probably a writer’s greatest enemy. Give it a metaphorical punch by sitting and writing down whatever comes to mind. Seriously, anything. Fill that page. Don’t stop to mull over your ideas and don’t even think about editing.  Keep writing and let your imagination do the hard work for now. I’m positive there will be the hint of a character, setting or tone that you could put to good use. 

4.    Mix it up

If you’re as easily distracted as I am, routine is crucial for actually, y’know, getting stuff done and feeling like a proper grown up. However, it can help to turn your back on this and mix things up. Don’t worry; you don’t have to lose your routine entirely. You could reverse it, writing through the evening instead of the morning, for example. If you always write on the computer, go all Luddite and dig out a pen and paper (remember those?). If you want to go even further, totally flip your writing habits. If you always write in the third person, write a story in the first person. If you think you’d never be able write a play, have a go. If it’s rubbish, stick it in a locked drawer somewhere. No-one will ever know, but I bet you’ll feel much more energized to write.

5.    A picture tells a thousand words

Finally, it may be one of the oldest tricks in the book, but it works! Find a random photograph and write something in response to it. Flickr is a good source of inspiration. You could pick someone in the photograph to be your protagonist or use it as a setting for your story.

I hope this helps you come up with some fresh ideas for your writing. If anyone has any other great suggestions, please add them in the comments below. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some daydreaming to do…

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Miss Write

Miss Write is Scottish Book Trust's resident writing Agony Aunt. When she's not busy drinking tea, making to-do lists or alphabetising her book collection, she likes to get some writing done.