At some point most of us have had to write an essay or a short piece of writing. It might be something that you have to do on a regular basis; it might be something you have to do right now.
Many people; particularly students, say the hardest part of essay writing is getting started. They often grapple with what to write about. Generating ideas for your essay or short body of work doesn’t have to be that difficult. Below are a few suggestions that I often share with people who ask me, “how can I come up with ideas?”
- Free Writing – this is the practice of writing down the first thing that pops into your head. It doesn’t really matter if it seems disconnected or if the grammar and spelling is all wrong, just get it down on paper. Often times writing without rules can bring out the best ideas. A good way to free-write is to type nonstop for several minutes without lifting your fingers from the keyboard. Don’t stop to think about making corrections. If you get stuck then type the word “stuck” or “free” until a new word pops into your head. While the paper may not look pleasing to the eye, it doesn’t matter because you are writing for yourself at this stage. You will see once you go back and read that a certain word, phrase or a sentence will likely formulate a great idea for a specific essay.
- Reading – books, magazines, newspapers, the Internet, even flyers and posters can help generate great ideas. Reading information from a variety of sources can stimulate our thinking and provide us with all sorts of new concepts worth exploring. Sometimes the best approach is to read about topics you enjoy. It can be difficult to immerse ourselves in subjects that we find boring or hard to comprehend. When we read about topics that interest us, we tend to ask more questions. Sometimes those questions can lead to essay ideas.
- Talking – when we are open to communicating with others about our difficulty it can lead to fresh ideas. We can talk to who ever we want about our essay or writing project. Don’t be afraid to approach anyone who you are comfortable with and you know will be open-minded. It could be siblings, parents, professors, close friends, neighbours, co-workers or someone you admire for their work.
- Airwaves – most of us have discussed with a friend or co-worker something we have heard on a radio or television broadcast. Think about it – if radio and TV generates that much conversation then it can generate ideas too. For example, I recently heard about an awful fire at a nursing home in Whitby Ontario. This could generate all sorts of essay ideas…like Nursing Home Safety, Caring for Elderly, Retirement Home Standards, Women in Firefighting, the Physics of Firefighting, and The Stress of Professional Firefighting. The point is that just like newspapers and magazines, daily news programming is a good jumping off point for many people searching for topics to write about.
- Associations- most communities have associations, clubs or networks that meet from time to time. Many even have guest speakers that give presentations on interesting topics. It is worth finding out what groups exist in your neighbourhood and who is going to be speaking in the near future. Perhaps whatever they are going to be talking about could lead to an idea for you.
I am sure there are other ways to generate ideas, but I have found the above very helpful and I hope you do too. If you have any tips on generating essay or article ideas, I would love to hear from you so I can pass them on to readers.