Getting Ideas

How do you get ideas? It’s not like you sit down in front of your computer and automatically you know what you are going to write about and how you are going to write it. Not each and every time anyway. There is some planning and organizing involved.

I keep a messy idea file. Most of it is in a notebook which I keep in my purse. I use it to note down the ideas as they occur to me. But, ideas tend to pop up at the worst times, as far as being able to make notes. That’s because its usually when I’m doing something else that I get my best ideas. Driving along to work, running a bit late, suddenly I have a great idea for a new story. I can’t just pull over and start writing. Traffic would be in a mess for one thing.

So, I try to remember my idea until I can write it down. Usually I do this by focusing on a key word and depending on that to jog my memory later. It doesn’t always work but it’s something.

Anyway, back to how you get ideas. If you’re lucky you find an idea in something already published. Those can be kept easily enough. Just get a copy of the article and store it in an idea file at home. Try to keep them organized so they actually are useful and not just a collection of paper you will use ‘someday’.

Other ideas can come from freewriting and brainstorming. Two versions of the same thing. Freewriting is just letting yourself write, without stopping to think too much along the way. Write until you’re finished. Ignore proper grammar, don’t check spelling and leave punctuation nitpicking for later. Just write everything that comes to mind about a topic or don’t even start with any one topic in mind. Brainstorming is the same but I always think of it as making a list of points more than writing in sentences.

Need more ideas? Read! Start with the newspaper and work your way along to magazines, books, newsletters, cereal boxes and so on and so on. The more you know about the more you will bring into your range. You could be writing about buttery toast and add in all kinds of information from what you know about butter, safe use of knives, etc. But, if you don’t know about using a knife to butter toast you won’t know to write about it. If you don’t know what to look for you won’t find it.

Something I do when looking for ideas to add links to my column is randomly combining words. Just think of topics, things you are interested in and put them together in ways you’ve never thought of before. It’s really interesting what you can come up with. Sometimes you find really unique ideas this way. Best of all is finding a group of people who have had the same ideas. That is always a gold mine to a writer, a research gem.

However you get ideas, don’t forget to talk to people. Talk about all kinds of stuff. Everyone has different life experiences, you can’t experience everything yourself. So learn to pick up what you can along the way from the people you bump into. Great ideas are all around you it’s just a matter of keeping your senses open to them. If you do get stuck, take a break. You’re most likely to come up with something when you stop trying too hard.

Proofreading is Boring

Proofreading is boring. If you’re a new writer I may as well give you the bad news now. It doesn’t get better with age. It’s boring even though I’ve been writing online for six years. It was boring when I began. Well, maybe not that first week when everything was new and wondrous.

Ugh! Why can’t we just get it right the first time? Is it some kind of brain blockage? Are our fingers not nimble enough? Do the words change so quickly that we can’t catch them fast enough? Is grammar really all it’s cracked up to be? I go with the nimble finger theory.

My fingers are complete klutzes. So often they aim for two keys at once. They miss the letter completely. Worst of all is when they think I mean ‘whole’ when I really meant to say ‘hole’. What’s wrong with fingers these days? I’d send them to school but I know they did that, I was right there with them, sort of watching over their shoulder. It didn’t seem to help. In fact, I remember crying over my fingers during a typing test in grade nine. We failed that course. It was the only one I didn’t pass that year. I blame my fingers.

There was that time when I had typed a whole essay for English class and my dratted fingers hit some strange key that deleted the whole thing. It wasn’t the delete key because that always gives you the chance to change your mind. I would have changed my mind, trust me! What can you do? We only get 10 fingers, no replacements, no warranties. Basically, you’re stuck with the fingers you’ve got.

So, proofread. Proofread till it hurts. Yes, it’s boring but you look like a fool if you can’t type. You see, everyone assumes the fingers are innocent and it’s YOU who can’t handle grammar or spelling. Yes, there’s the rub. No one ever assumes your fingers are the saboteurs.

Assignments for Home-Based Writers

From the book – How to Start a Home-Based Writing Business by Lucy V. Parker, these are sixty key assignments for home-based writers:

  • Advertising copy
  • Anniversary materials for corporations, organizations, institutions, municipalities
  • Annual reports
  • Articles for employee magazines
  • Articles for single-sponsor magazines
  • Articles for trade journals and small magazines
  • Brochures
  • Calendars
  • Capability brochures
  • Catalogues and product sheets
  • CD-ROM/ Interactive media writing
  • City and newcomer guides
  • Collateral materials
  • Conference and trade show materials
  • Consultation
  • Contributing editor assignments
  • Critical reviewing
  • Direct-mail packages
  • Directories
  • Editing
  • Employee benefit materials
  • Environmental materials
  • Family histories and genealogies
  • Flyers
  • Fund-raising materials
  • Ghost writing and collaboration
  • Greeting card writing
  • Indexing
  • Industry-specific writing
  • Instructional materials
  • Investor-relations materials.
  • Letter writing
  • Manuals
  • Menu writing
  • New product regulatory writing
  • Newsletters
  • Newspaper feature writing, reporting and stringing
  • Packaging design and copy
  • Policies and procedures writing
  • Political campaign writing
  • Press releases and press kits
  • Proofreading
  • Proposals
  • Public relations services and materials
  • Radio and TV ads and promotions
  • Researching
  • Restaurant reviewing and writing
  • Resume writing
  • Retail and mall promotions
  • Sales presentations
  • Scripts and storyboards
  • Speeches
  • Sports materials and services
  • Teaching writing
  • Technical writing
  • Telemarketing scripts
  • Transcripts and other forms of word processing
  • Translations
  • Travel writing
  • Website content providing

Go through the list and pick out which you like to do, could do more of, or could learn to do. It’s a great list. Find a copy of the book for more information about any of the assignments above.

You can also look up information about being a virtual assistant. I know some writers/ web designers/ virtual assistants – people who are leaving their options open and learning a lot of new skills. The key is to find your niche, the area(s) where you can flourish and grow and really love what you’re doing.