Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Finding ideas

As someone who writes day in and day out, I sometimes have to stop relying on the muse and resort to a more pragmatic approach to idea-finding. One possibility is to work through the 10 tips in Howard Scott’s Finding article ideas without leaving your desk.  Mr Scott listed these 10 tips way back in a 1993 Writers Magazine, and I wrote them down for a rainless day.

First, he says, ask: What if? What if I did such and such? Hmm. There used to be a columnist in New Zealand’s Sunday Star Times who wrote just such an article each week. However, he actually did the things he wrote about, setting - or having others set - often absurd challenges which he then turned into a column. But since Scott talks of finding ideas without leaving the desk, I think we can put that suggestion aside.

The second approach is to consider your latest rants. Here's this week's.  Is it surprising that our society is becoming more violent when abortion is considered 'safe' as long as the mother is okay - even though the safety of the person within is violated?

Too complex for a short blog post.

Observe an object, says Mr Scott, or a process. Don't just observe; think about it.

Well, I've sat here observing my computer screen for several minutes while my wife and son debate the rules of draughts behind me. Gritting my teeth and turning my ears off hasn't helped. The whole point of this exercise is to assist me, not frustrate me.

Next. Read news stories; pause over something that interests; what further questions or reactions? Hmm. A cellist in a European orchestra due to play Peter and the Wolf quits her job because she feels wolves are being discriminated against in the story.

This ranks alongside the ill-considered removal of a Pinocchio mural from a children's hospital wall. Adults' screwed-up notions being foisted on children who think political correctness has something to do with keeping your elbows off the table. (Whoops, this sounds more like a rant.)

Mr Scott next suggests I should find a new angle on an old article. I have enough trouble trying to find an angle on most of the ideas I do have without going through the process twice over.

I once wrote myself an enthusiastic maxim. Every idea has two outlets. Sadly, my brain has found the effort of forever conceiving twins quite unsustainable.

Next on the list. Reverse the popular notion - what if the opposite were the norm?

This is rather like lateral-thinking Edward de Bono's creative notion of using the word 'po' when you

Edward de Bono

make a statement that's norm's opposite.  'Po - planes fly upside down.' In Mr de Bono's books this approach always works - within minutes. My lips say 'Po,' however, and my brain says, 'Pooh.'

Talking of Mr de Bono, have you noticed that as time went on all his books said the same thing? The only difference was they got longer.

Back to Mr Scott. Use your friend's experiences, he says. Though I have tried this, I think it's a good way to have no friends from whom to glean experiences, eventually. One of our friends, for instance, complained that the only time I mentioned her family was in relation to toilets.

On to the next.

Recycle old ideas, says Mr Scott. This is certainly very ecological, but I'm not sure if people want to hear my thoughts on slaters (or wood lice) again, even if I approach them from a different angle.  (Say, upside down.)

Mr Scott gets desperate by this time and recommends for number nine: Try to come up with an answer to a silly question. Hmm, what about: Why are some people so masochistic they try and write a blog post a day? Is that question silly enough?

And finally, he says, think of something you're curious about and ask questions. Okay…

What does it mean to poke mollock? Does anything rhyme with orange, or month? Why isn't there a word in the English language for the back of the knee?  Is there a word in any language for the back of the knee?

Well, well, these idea-inducing tips work after all.

This piece was originally written for the now defunct site, Triond, around 2007/8, at a time when I was 
writing blog posts much more frequently.