Writing Successfully: Where Ideas Come From (Part 3 of 9)

Jeff S. Bray
6 min readAug 4, 2020
Where Ideas Come From

So, what’s next. You’ve got the habit of writing down. You’re setting and meeting your daily goals and you have been reading to sharpen your skills. Now, you continue the cycle of the writer; lather, rinse, and repeat. Yet you may still face times when the well runs dry. You sit down at your desk and there is nothing. You stare at the screen, or piece of paper and you are thinking to yourself, “Now what?”

A sudden fear comes over you; You wonder if you have written your last sentence.

Then doubt creeps in. You criticize everything you have ever written and question your ability to write.

It’s called “Blank Page Syndrome.” There’s no need to worry. It happens to all of us. Some days the words flow out of us, and our hands cannot keep up with the fluidity of our minds. Then there are those days when you can’t write to save your life. There are a few things you can do to get you out of the funk and get spurred on to writing again. Through this story, we are going to cover where our ideas come from.

Write What You Know

When faced with that blank page, it helps to go back to the basics — write what you know. This is a big rule of thumb for a writer. I have heard the pros and cons of writing what you know, and I can see both sides of the argument. I tend to relate to the pro side of the discussion, so that is the position I will be covering first.

In quite a few of Stephen King’s novels, the main character is a writer. In Misery, Paul Sheldon is a writer. In The Shining, Jack Torrance is a troubled writer. In Bag of Bones, Mike Noonan is a writer with writer’s block. And in The Body (you may better know it by its movie counterpart, “Stand by Me”), Gordie Lachance is a writer recounting his youthful adventures. So, in some essence, SK is writing about what he knows, or in some cases fears, about being a writer.

As for me, I was a truck driver for over six years. I know a bit about trucking. In my novel The Five Barred Gate, my main character is an ex-truck driver. He knows what it’s like to be on the road, pulling into truck stops, and getting that delivery there on time. I was writing about what I knew.

You may be a manager at a bank, an insurance agent, a grocery shelf stocker, or heck; you may even be a writer. To write successfully, you must begin by writing what you know. It makes little sense to write about a ballerina if your daily life is surrounded by truck stops and roughnecks.

So, it’s okay to write about the life of a Customer Service Manager. Why? Because there will be a reader out there who is or was a CSM, and they will relate to the character you are writing about and get deeper into the story you are telling. When stumped, go back to the basics — write what you know.

Learn Something New

Just as Ecclesiastes 3 teaches us, “For everything, there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.” There is a time to write what you know, and there will be a time to write about what you do not know. This is the con of solely writing what you know; you don’t grow as a writer.

If you stick with only the things you know, you can never expand your horizons and get better at your craft. That is the purpose of reading — to learn new things. As you learn new things, they can be adapted into your next project.

I write content articles for quite a few websites. Over the last several years, I have written about things I had no clue what they were about. I was doubtful about each one at first. A colleague of mine told me once that content writers are ‘a jack of all trades, but masters of none.’ This comment was etched in my mind, and it opened my eyes to the possibilities of learning new things.

The more you know, the more you can write about. The more you can write about; the more opportunity there is for you to be successful in writing. Even if you get an assignment where you are vaguely aware of the topic, once you have trained yourself, you will learn how to quickly research the material and write a coherent, educated piece.

It works for all genres, not just content writing. If a secondary character in your novel is a nurse, then study about nursing, talk to nurses, and watch nurses. Then you can successfully write about nurses. Don’t be afraid to learn something new. When you don’t know a subject, study it until you do.

Steal, but Make It Your Own

This one can be a bit dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing. The worst thing that can be done to a fellow writer is to plagiarize their work. In my line of work of content writing, I cannot tell you how many times I have seen it done wrong.

I have been an editor and have been handed assignments, written by other freelancers. As I am going through the piece, I find that nearly half of it is direct quotes from other sites. Stealing another writer’s work is a slap in the face and totally disrespectful to the art of writing. Don’t do it.

One exception to this rule is making it your own. I don’t mean rewriting SK’s Carrie with the title Sherrie or writing a munchkin novel called The Duke of the Bracelets. Making it your own is taking an idea and putting your voice, your personal experience, and your words to it.

It is similar to the YA novel series that are out there. The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, and Divergent. All three are pretty much the same story, but each has its own way of telling the same story. On a side note, if you haven’t read any of these, put them all on your reading list. All are excellent. And the movies do nothing to compare with the works of each writer. (I’m ashamed of what the movie franchise did to The Maze Runner, but that’s another story for another day.)

The point of taking an idea and making it your own is that when you are finished, one cannot tell that it belonged to the other writer. It is okay to see an idea that you like, but use your own experience and put your own spin on it before you write.

Final Thoughts

But still, there are going to be times when you hit that brick wall, and all creativity comes to a screeching halt. There are a few things you can do to try and overcome writer’s block.

The first thing you can do is to free-write. Whether it is a writing prompt, a journal entry, or just typing incoherent blabber, get your fingers moving. Writing prompts are great at tapping into your creativity. Sometimes that’s all it takes to get you going again. A journal entry can get you past the anxiety you are feeling by simply writing out your emotions. Write about your doubts and fears, then transition into how you want to overcome those feelings. This exercise can help you climb up over the obstacles in your way.

When all else fails, take a break. Walk away from the computer, typewriter, or pad of paper. Do something that will get your mind off of the block. Watch TV, read a book, do a crossword or Sudoku puzzle. If you exercise, take a walk, or hit the gym. Unless you are under a deadline, you can always come back later.

After you have taken your mind off of the blank page and refocused on another task, ideas may begin to flow again. That TV show or chapter in your book may spark something. Just remember when that happens, be sure to make it your own.

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Jeff S. Bray is a freelance writer and published author. You can follow him on his website JeffSBrayAuthor.com. All of his novels and children’s books are available on Amazon.

Isabella Media, Inc is a Rhode Island-based, family-owned, mainline publishing organization with a mission to discover unknown authors. We combine unknown authors’ undiscovered potential with Isabella Media Inc’s unique approach to publishing and provide them with the highest quality books and the most inclusive benefits package available. Isabella Media Inc was formed to serve you, the author, as a traditional, mainline royalty publishing company and provide a platform for unknown authors. We listen to your feedback and create a collaborative atmosphere with our authors in the belief that you’ll come back to us with your next book.Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

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Jeff S. Bray

Christian Author and Freelance Writer specializing in helping writers excel in their craft and working with parents to develop a child’s hunger for reading.