Whenever I teach fiction writing classes, I start by giving my students a blank notebook. I have them write “Sparks” on the front of the notebook and then go on to call it their spark
I’m not a pyromaniac by any stretch of the imagination, but I do love that a spark of an idea can become an all consuming piece of writing. One little idea…that’s where professional authors start when they write bestsellers. One sentence, one word, and you can have inspiration like a waterfall.
You see, that can be part of the problem when you get a writing assignment – what in the wide, wide world of creative writing class do I write about? The blank page is staring at you. The cursor is blinking on an empty screen. Where do you start?
In walks the spark book, or if you prefer, the writer’s notebook. In it lie all the ideas you need to get started on any assignment your adults throw at you.
You see, it’s not always easy to come up with ideas when you need them. That’s why I think it’s a really valuable thing to write down your ideas when they come to you. Plus investing a few minutes every day to come up with more ideas is also worth it. If you do, you never face the monster of writer’s block again.
All this is well and good, but ideas aren’t worth much if you don’t know what to put on the page in the first place. Am I right? So let’s get to it. Grab yourself a notebook or even just a few sheets of paper (seriously people, we’re not looking for fancy here) and get ready to get some ideas down.
These are a few of my favorite words.
Some pages in my notebook have a title at the top, and I add to them as new ideas come to me. One of these pages is the “These are a few of my favorite words” page. Want to take a guess as to what goes on that page? Yeah, not a trick question. It’s just a list of words I like.
Some I like how they sound. Some I like how they look. Some I like what they mean. But whatever the reason, I like these words. When I meet one, I write it on my page. Simple as that. Words on my page? I’m glad you asked: onomatopoeia,
Whose line is it, anyway?
I don’t know if you have writing aspirations for the rest of your life or if you’re just trying to get through school, but one of the biggest pieces of advice aspiring writers get is READ. Yup. Read. Read the genres you like. Read the ones you don’t. Read while you’re in line or waiting for an appointment, or when you order that simply perfect cup of coffee and are sipping your way to bliss. Read.
There’s a general type of inspiration that comes from reading great writing, but you can get specific inspiration from your favorite authors too by writing down their greatest lines. Now, they can be the it was the most famous of lines, it was the least famous of lines type lines, but they don’t have to be. I like anything that sparks an image in my head that sticks or any kind of unique description.
I don’t copy those lines when I’m ready to write. I use them for inspiration. When ??? wrote ???
Who said the only thing you can put in your spark book is words? If a picture is worth a thousand words then you can be done with most writing assignments with one download.
The point is, pictures are just as inspiring as words if not more. I have a page in my notebook with pictures I’ve cut out of magazines or printed from online and even a few that were drawn by someone I care about. (I’d include my own pictures, but my talent runs out at drawing a stick figure cow.)
If you like to doodle or sketch, try doing it in a spark book rather than a piece of paper you’re going to throw away. Then when it’s time to write, you just may have a great character staring back at you from your notebook. Or a picture from someplace else. Maybe it’s a beach scene or a fantasy creature or a cute baby animal. Whatever YOU like. Stick it to the page and visit it frequently.
I talk about this technique frequently because I think it’s one of the best ways to get your brain going. It works for fiction and nonfiction, and believe it or not it’s fun.
Freewriting just means writing without stopping for a certain period of time.
Ten minutes it good, but you might need to work up to that. If you haven’t tried freewriting before, set the timer on your phone for three minutes and start writing. The goal is to never let your pen stop moving. You can write stupid stuff. “I have no idea what to write. I can’t believe this is a technique for coming up with ideas. My dog’s barf smells terrible, and I wonder if humans ever get hairballs….” Just keep writing! The thing is, sometimes that creative inspiration is just waiting for you on the other side of the dog barf. Wait. That didn’t come out right.
In any case, you’ll be surprised at the ideas you come up with if you just start writing and don’t let yourself stop. This is a good exercise to do on a regular basis, especially if you are looking for an idea to write about and you don’t have much in your spark book yet.
It’s not always easy to come up with ideas to write about, but if you’re using writer’s block as your excuse to leave the page blank, it’s time to quit with the copout. Get some paper. Put a few titles on the page. And get to work. And if you’re looking for even more ideas for what can go in your spark book, check out The Writer’s Notebook by Ralph Fletcher.