Fresh Start to 2019: Three Writing Prompts to Brainstorm Story Ideas

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This is the first of a series of posts about starting fresh for 2019. With the New Year upon us, many of us look to start new habits or activities. I’ll address some of those fresh starts as it relates to work, life and writing. In this first post, I will share writing prompts to brainstorm story ideas and boost your writing practice.

Starting a writing practice is difficult, but it’s nearly impossible without a story idea to work with. There are numerous sources of writing prompts to get you started, of course, but they can be so narrowly focused that they may not fit what you want to ultimately achieve.

Most writing prompts deal with one of three themes: the past, the present or the future. With this in mind, you really only need three writing prompts to help you brainstorm story ideas, one for each of these themes. Let me show you how.

1) I Remember… (or alternately, “Remember when”)

Using either of these prompts helps you reflect on the past. It’s ideal for memoirs, stories about growing up, attending school, family dynamics and vacations. Incidents that seemed insignificant when they first occurred may have more meaning now as you reflect on them. That reflection is the basis of your story.

On a sheet of paper, write the phrase “I remember” at the top. Then give yourself five or ten minutes to complete the phrase.

Examples include:
“I remember when I nearly drowned in our family’s swimming pool.”
“I remember attending my first Blackhawks hockey game with my father when I was 11 years old.”
“I remember the day my younger brother was born.”

You get the idea. Keep going with your list until time expires. You should have plenty of ideas to work with to begin writing. It may even lead to a collection of essays that you can publish in the future.

2) I Believe

From the past, we move to the present with the prompt “I Believe.” This prompt explores how you are feeling in the present moment. Those beliefs can be about anything: politics, relationships, raising children, your career. But the common element is your beliefs, your values, what you see as important in your life at this moment. Because the focus is on the present, this prompt is most useful for defining subjects for op-ed pieces and personal essays.

Examples include:
“I believe many pet owners treat their pets better than they treat other humans.”
“I believe all colleges and universities should provide free tuition.”
“I believe I was fired from my job because my boss didn’t like me.”

Once you have made your list of completed “I believe” statements, you can begin to explore your feelings further, beginning with why you believe the way you do. It might be helpful to back up your belief statements with statistics, survey results and other research that will give your statement more credence.

3. What if?
If you’re more forward-thinking, the prompt “What if?” can help you imagine all sorts of possibilities about the future. It helps you create worlds that don’t currently exist. What is different about this prompt compared to the previous two is that it does not hinge on any emotional content. “What if?” is non-personal, non-judgmental and more objective. This type of prompt is ideal for creating fiction, especially science fiction, fantasy, horror, mysteries and thrillers. Of the three prompts, this is the one you can have the most fun with because there is no limit to what your imagination can conjure up.

Examples include:
“What if the city of Chicago was invaded by zombies who climbed out of Lake Michigan?
“What if scientists finally found a cure for AIDS, cancer or some other disease?
“What if a woman was elected President of the United States?”

If you’re feeling stuck with your writing and are looking for new story ideas, these three basic writing prompts are all you really need to kickstart your efforts. Start with one, make your bullet list, and then let your imagination do the rest.

Find Creative Inspiration in These Soulful Spaces

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I sat inside a local coffee shop recently, where I wrote in my journal and sketched out a story for my blog. I don’t go to coffee shops very often since I have a home office, but on occasion, I feel the need to hunker down somewhere in the neighborhood. While sipping my coffee, I’m not only brainstorming story ideas, but I find myself half-listening to other peoples’ conversations at nearby tables or watching people or simply staring out the window. By the time I left the coffee shop some four hours later, I hadn’t crossed off all my tasks on my to-do list, but what I did have were pages of ideas and emotions that I could tap into for stories later.

There have been other places I’ve visited that has inspired me to write, to dream, and to create. If you’re feeling stuck and looking for inspiration, get out of the house and get around your neighborhood.

1. Coffee shops. Coffee isn’t the only thing that flows at these neighborhood java shops. Whether people watching, surreptitiously listening in on conversations or mindfully enjoying a cup of your favorite beverage, the local coffee shop is the obvious choice for finding inspiration. Even the tap-tapping of nearby computer keyboards signals that creative juices are flowing.

2. Libraries and bookstores. Next to coffee shops, libraries and bookstores are my favorite place to find inspiration. When you browse the book shelves, note the topics, the story lines, the biographies. Hundreds of thousands of books have been published, yet there is still plenty to write about. Somewhere in our world, there is a story that has yet to be written, and you and I have the opportunity to write it.

3. Places of worship. There is something powerfully serene and reverent when I walk into a church or other place of worship. Sit in the silence (preferably not when there is a service taking place) and observe your surroundings. Or better yet, close your eyes. Whether you pray or not is up to you. In fact, prayer isn’t necessary. Just your mindful awareness and your willingness to be present.

4. Cemeteries. As creepy as it may seem, cemeteries are great places to find creative inspiration. Think of those who have died and are buried there. They all have a story. Read their tombstones. When were they born? When did they perish? Imagine what their lives must have been like. How did they live? Who did they marry? How did they die? Keeping these questions in mind can help you create their life story, whether they are true or not.

5. Museums. Have you ever seen a painting, sculpture or other artistic endeavor that moved you? What is its story?  Each antique relic, painting and sculpture you see in a museum has a story.  Even after you’ve read the caption next to it, you can still write your own story about that particular piece. How did it move you? What did it look like? What did you experience when viewed it for the first time?

6. Nature. Feeling stuck indoors? Take a walk, whether in a park, along a lake or in the woods. Nature calls for us to be quiet so we can hear the still voice within us. That is our creative muse, and sometimes in the hectic pace of life, we lose its sound. Spending time in nature is one of the best ways to reconnect with our soul, which can help get those creative juices flowing again.

7. Music. They say music calms the savage beast, and they may be right. Though not a specific place, music does provide a meaningful backdrop to any creative endeavor. When I sit down to write or read, I prefer to listen to softer music, like contemporary folk or classical. Listening to a piece of music that is unfamiliar to you may be especially enlightening, providing a new experience to draw on for your next inspired story.

Mix and match and of these places, or choose whatever you are in the mood for. When you need a change of scenery, a change of pace or even a change of heart, visiting a quiet place can help you reconnect with yourself and find the creative inspiration you seek to write your next great story.