Q&A: “Where do you get your ideas?”

My four blogs have varying levels of activity. My business website will soon contain articles on several techie subjects, as soon as I finish updating the material from my old site. I also contribute to threads on waaay too many email discussion lists.

I’m often asked where I get so many ideas for stuff to write about. This question irritates many writers, but I really don’t mind. I consider it an educational opportunity—a chance to nudge more people into doing what I do.

Where do I get ideas?
Everywhere!

First, I read. I read a lot. Novels, non-fiction books, magazines, professional journals, news websites, blogs, and aggregator sites like Arts and Letters Daily and Live Science. Almost everything I read triggers a new train of thought (new to me, at least) about some issue in whatever text I’m reading. Whether it’s the relationship between two characters in a novel, a new technique I can use in my professional work, a historical incident, a current news event, or even speculation about why the media considers a particular uninteresting event to be newsworthy, I’m always encountering something that makes me think.

Second, I do. I work. As a freelancer, I wear several different hats: technical writer, editor, web designer, computer coach, trainer, and singer. I also volunteer for a couple of non-profit organizations. I enjoy my work, both professional and volunteer, and I meet interesting people through each activity. I like learning to use new work-related tools, perfecting each of my skills, and I really enjoy finding better ways to do each task.

Third, I observe. Wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, I watch and listen and think about what I see and hear. Blame it on childhood training. Every day, at dinner, my mother asked me detailed questions about my day.

  • What did you learn today?
  • Did you meet anyone interesting?
  • Did you see anything unusual on your way home from school?
  • What books are you reading?
  • Did you sing a new song in choir?

Her motivation was to stay connected to my life as both of us got busier and life got more and more complicated as I grew up, but I consider this one of the greatest gifts she gave me: I learned to pay attention to my surroundings, and be able to describe them and talk about my reaction to them.

And then, after reading/doing/observing/thinking, I write. Writing helps me sort out and clarify my thoughts. It isn’t always fun—thoughts can sometimes be uncomfortable, painful, scary—but making things make sense, at least to myself, always makes me feel better.

None of this is rocket science or brain surgery. It requires nothing except curiosity, mindfulness, the ability to make mental connections between things that are and things the way they might be, and the willingness to make the time to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to get the mental words out in some tangible form.

Read.
Do.
Observe.
Think.
Write.

That’s what I do. You can do it, too.

About Kat

Cat lover, singer, early music addict, reads a lot. Former R&D chemist with an obsessive need for variety. Now active as a freelance technical writer and editor, web designer, photographer, computer coach, and trainer. Owner, MasterWork Consulting (http://www.masterworkconsulting.com/).
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