Summer, the perfect time for grilling. Well, not for me, since my apartment complex doesn’t allow a grill on our all-wood balcony. For some reason, their insurance company doesn’t like the idea. However, another device I like to take advantage of is the slow cooker. It’s incredible. A busy cook tosses in the right ingredients, sets the slow cooker controls, and goes about their other duties and the result is amazing.
For the writer, slow cooker creativity works the same way. While our writing schedules may be hectic, often creativity has to simmer and stew. There’s an odd balancing act in writing between the need to produce something and letting ideas sit until they have enough consistency to write them down.
The good news is you can do both!
The secret is: Always have several ideas brewing.
The following preparations, inspired by the slow-cooker, will also produce some amazing results.
Basic Ingredients: Brainstorming what you know
The first step of this process is to begin a list. On breaks, while waiting at the doctor’s office, or on the phone (to get through to “customer service”) are all perfect times to record ideas. Think of several subjects and then write everything you already know about each one. The knowledge doesn’t have to be extensive. If you can talk about something intelligently for more than five minutes, it’s also a writing topic.
Try Some Fresh Ingredients: Learning new things
As with recipes, to keep from running out of possibilities, you have to learn new things. Branch out in all directions going beyond what you like to what interests others. Take a class. Visit a museum or a city you’ve never been to. Increased knowledge and varied experiences will spark new thoughts. Then you can brainstorm again.
Using Spices: Finding a unique writing angle
Writing needs to be specific. James Watkins, writer and speaker, relates it to a pie, “You don’t want to try to feed people the whole pie; you just want to give them a nice satisfying slice.” Try coming up with five nourishing angles for each idea. For instance, your idea is to write about how schools are working with smaller budgets than 5 years ago. This subject is too bland for one article. Here are 5 ways you could spice it up:
Decreased Budget in the School Lunch Program
Cut-backs in Sports
Schools dropping the Arts Program
How Learning has suffered
Teacher Stress: Fewer resources and Larger Classrooms
Swap Recipes: Talk to other writers and readers
Although my writing is sometimes solitary, most ideas start from interactions with people. Even if you are shy, learn to say hello (or hi, or howdy) and talk to everyone. You can strike gold just by striking up a conversation. Meet new people and observe the world around you. These are great tools for the writer. I do also find it helpful, in both the technical and creative processes of writing, to spend time with other writers.
Letting Ideas Stew: I think we’re going to need a bigger pot
If you brainstorm regularly, you will always have many ideas in the process. Check your idea list often. Read through each idea and the angles you’ve come up with. Jot down any new ones. By taking the time to write them, organize them, and find unique angles, you will have solidified the ideas in your mind, so your subconscious can work on them. Another exercise, as you look at your list, is to also consider possible markets for each idea and record those as well.
At some point sparks will start to fly, and an idea from your list will take off. Begin to flesh it out. If you haven’t already thought of a market yet, now is the time to find a few. You can jot down some points of your article, and think of a strong opening. You can even write a few summary paragraphs, but a good part of the writing will depend on the audience. Don’t wait; inquire while the aroma is filling up your senses.
This method will improve as you use it more often, just as recipes get better each time you make them. Understanding this creative process will guard your inspiration from being stifled, even in hectic, stressful times. You’ll have enough new ideas bubbling to the surface right when you need them.