Learn to Journal By Tal Valante How intimately do you know the blank, virginal screen? Do you have a love-hate relationship with it? On the one hand are many writing options, waiting to unfold. On the other, a dread of the unknown that freezes your fingers. And always, that vast, nagging question: what shall I write about? Take heart! You’re surrounded by brilliant writing ideas waiting only for you to grab them and transform them into riveting pieces. Whether you write a blog, fiction, or non-fiction, inspiration is all around you. Here are some ways to make your daily life an endless source of writing ideas. 1. Mix Up Topics Interesting things happen when you choose a topic you care deeply about, and then combine it with something completely outside your experience. For example, perhaps you are pro-life, with strong opinions about abortion. Let’s combine that with something you know absolutely nothing about. Say, motorcycles. You could write a book about the member of a motorcycle gang whose girlfriend is pregnant. She doesn’t want the baby; he already visualizes it developing in her womb. When the baby is born, she disappears into the smog, and the biker is determined to raise the child himself. He wants his son to experience the world as he never had the opportunity to do. So he sets off on a journey across the country with his toddler. This can be a heartwarming novel, a hopeless tragedy, or even a comedy. It’s up to you. The possibilities are endless, even within this one scenario. 2. Be a News Hog The news offers exciting possibilities. Make a habit of reading about what’s going on around you, especially the slice-of-life articles. You can build on these stories, making them your own. Some ways of doing that are: Imagine where the story could go next, and create a new ending of your own. Imagine alternative beginnings to the story. What could be the background of the characters involved? Change one major detail in the story. How would it impact the story? What new possibilities would that create? Last week I read about two burglars who broke into a private residence and stole jewelry worth thousands of dollars. Did they get away with it? No. They were quickly apprehended because one of the felons was caught staring straight into the house’s security camera, revealing his unmasked face. This seems to be an open-and-shut case. And yet, it made me wonder… The burglars were obviously experienced. They broke into the house without a problem, and they searched it systematically for valuable goods. It was clearly not their first job. So what caused the rookie mistake of not wearing face masks? Could it be that the burglar caught on camera was distracted as he was making his preparations for the robbery, and so forgot to cover his face? What could have distracted him? Was it a subliminal desire to quit this dark line of work? What made him go into house-breaking in the first place? And how did he feel when he looked directly into the camera, and probably realized he was in trouble? Why not try to deactivate the camera or find out where it was transmitting to? Don’t get me wrong. The true answers to these questions are probably boring: he was becoming overconfident after a long run of successful jobs and forgot to cover his face, or some such thing. But the possible answers are much more interesting. I can almost feel the conspiracy thickening around this man. Or maybe it’s a comedy of errors? What would you make of his circumstances? 3. Capture Your Dreams Dreams can be a fertile ground for inspiration. They are the essence of imagination run amok. Your sleeping mind thinks up ideas that your waking mind might reject before you’ve even had a chance to register them. These ideas can be precious writing material. Your dreams are a gold mine, but so are other people’s dreams. When friends, family and strangers tell you about their dreams, that’s your chance to listen carefully. A friend of mine received the inspiration for her entire novel from a dream her husband had. (Her story wasn’t based on his dream, but relied on the unreal atmosphere it created.) Children’s dreams, in particular, are rich and free of filters. For example, your son’s dream about purple, diesel-drinking plants may inspire you to write the environmentally sympathetic version of The Day of the Triffids. How cool is that? 4. What If? This is probably my favorite question ever. I turn to it whenever I’m out of ideas. What if time travel were possible? Where would my character go? What if three sisters decided to assassinate a tyrannical African despot? How would they do it? What if my husband decided that we should buy a motorhome and live on the roads for a year? Try it! Put together a long list of what-ifs. There’s nothing more liberating for the imagination than that little two-word phrase. 5. Journaling—The Straight Way Keeping a journal of your thoughts, feelings and experiences can help you capture great ideas from your own life. Write To Done has already covered this subject with two fascinating articles: How to Journal and 5 Ways Your Journal Can Take You Deeper Into Your Story. These will set you on the road to journaling success. And great story ideas. 6. Journaling—With a Twist What if you hate journaling? What if you think your life isn’t interesting enough to write about? Well, make your life more interesting! What is a writer if not an astute liar, at the end of the day? Start with the truth—always a good place—and then embroider. Suppose you stood in a long checkout where the sales person was rude and obnoxious. In truth, you may have done nothing but await your turn, bear it, gather your groceries, and leave. But what would you like to have done? Don’t write the truth. Fantasize, fabricate, lie. Re-create yourself as a character you’d like to read about. And think how surprised and impressed your children or grandchildren will be when they discover your journal! Life is full of opportunities. Don’t let them pass you by! Try one of the exercises above and see where it takes you. Make it a habit to do a few exercises every day and you’ll never again lack writing inspiration. What do you do when you’re looking for fresh writing ideas? Share in the comments, please, and help inspire others as well!