10 ways to generate writing ideas

By BBC Maestro

Writing
Last updated: 19 April 2022

Are you an aspiring writer waiting for writing inspiration to hit? Instead of sitting around hoping an idea will come to you, we’ve created this list of 10 ways you can generate writing ideas right now. 
 
Even the most established writers have to work on finding inspiration. Sometimes the spark of an idea comes out of the blue, and other times you have to work extra hard on generating story ideas. Learning how to come up with new ideas is all part of becoming a writer. 
 
Whether you’re currently writing a book or if you’re wondering how to start a story, then read on for some expert tips and tricks on getting the writing ideas flowing. 

How to generate writing ideas

writing journal

1. Use writing prompt cards 

Perhaps the blank page in front of you is giving you serious writer’s block, or perhaps you’re already halfway through the first draft of your novel and your ideas for where to go next have completely dried up. Either way, writing prompt cards can save you. 

A deck of cards like the Storyworld create-a-story series, or Oblique Strategies devised by Brian Eno and used to stimulate creative thinking, can help you climb out of a creative rut. These cards feature creative writing prompts to help you see your tale from a new angle, or visuals to trigger fresh ideas for your novel, and are a favourite of writers like Alan Moore

2. Play a what-if game 

Malorie Blackman shares her writing process in her BBC Maestro online writing course. One way the prolific author comes up with ideas is by playing a what-if game as she goes about her daily life.  

Malorie shares that this has been the catalyst for several of her most popular novels. What if a boy needed a heart transplant, but the only available donor was a pig? What if you let something bad fundamentally change your personality? Try it for yourself and let your mind wander to the most imaginative places. 

3. Learn the craft 

Honing your writing skills is a sure-fire way to feel inspired to write. Read some recommended books about the craft of writing or take an online writing course to learn from famous writers themselves. 

“There’s inspiration that comes from listening to writers talking about writing,” says Line Of Duty creator Jed Mercurio in his screenwriting course

4. Read widely 

We all have our favourite books - but what happens when you step outside of your reading comfort zone? 

“I would suggest that you be as omnivorous as possible - read everything,” Alan Moore suggests in his online storytelling course. “Don’t differentiate between the highest pinnacles of literature and the lowest slums of pulp and genre. Everything is potentially powerful and will enrich you as a writer.” 

Alan adds that it’s not just about reading ‘good’ books either.  

“As a prospective writer I would urge you to not only read good books, but read terrible books as well. Because they can be more inspiring than the good books… a genuinely helpful reaction to a piece of writing is ‘I could write this sh*t’. This will immensely help your own style - you will find out all of the mistakes not to make.” 

So pick up something different next time you sit down to read. 

“You are likely to be exactly as good a writer, as you are a reader. Reading is the gateway drug for writing.”
- Alan Moore, Writer
coffee shop

5. Be inspired by reality 

Everyday life can be inspiring when you stop to notice the finer details. Whether you’re drawing from your own life experiences or are taking ideas from a news story, once you become an observer you’ll find inspiration is everywhere. 

“Take stimuli from the real world - watch TV, read books, watch the news, read newspapers, listen to your friends’ anecdotes,” says Jed Mercurio in his screenwriting course. “If you sit around waiting for inspiration it won’t come. Think of it as perspiration rather than inspiration.” 

“Writers are like life vampires - we draw inspiration from the real world around us.”
- Malorie Blackman, Author

6. Draw creativity from other stories 

Could Alice In Wonderland have inspired L. Frank Baum to write The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz? And was Harry Potter inspired in part by Star Wars? David Walliams draws on the similarities of these famous novels in his online writing course. 

“Certain stories work for a reason,” says David. “If you’re going down the route of storytelling yourself, it’s very useful to think about what’s so great about these stories you love and what can you learn from them. Make it something of your own. You’ve got to have a new take on an old idea.” 

7. Take a walk 

Many writers throughout history have stumbled upon their greatest ideas when simply taking a walk outside. 

“Go for a walk. I find the very best ideas often come when I’m moving about,” says Gruffalo author, Julia Donaldson. The very act of moving around can help your mind wander, taking the pressure off the immediate need to come up with an idea or next scene for your novel. Often it is when we are most distracted, our creative mind kicks in with some wonderfully original ideas. 

go for a walk

8. Keep a notebook 

It’s the secret weapon of every writer: the humble notebook. Keep a notepad and pen on you at all times and you’ll always be prepared to write down your ideas when inspiration strikes. 

“If I get an idea that isn’t fully-fledged, I write it down,” says Julia Donaldson in her writing course, as she explains how she returns to her notebook when in need of new writing ideas. 

9. Start with a character 

Remember, most stories are driven by characters. So if you’re struggling to come up with a story idea, then try to come up with a character first. Using our free character bio template download is a great starting point. 

Ask yourself - what problem could this character have? What’s different about them? What do they want? And what are they prepared to do to get what they want? 

This character could be based on someone you know - a family member, a friend or even your next-door neighbour. Write a short story about something that happens to them. You may find writing from the perspective of someone completely different to yourself is enough to get the creative juices flowing. 

10. Try a new genre 

If you always write in one particular genre, but you’re looking to generate some new story ideas, try writing in a genre that’s completely new to you. It could be time-travelling sci-fi or historical romance (or even a combination of both?!) but simply trying something new could be just the refresh your writing needs. 

Ready to take your creative writing to the next level? Browse our selection of online writing courses and learn from some of the greatest writers around.