August 14, 2002
HOW TO KEEP THOSE IDEAS FLOWING By Susan Miles
Like most of you, I carry around an "ideas notebook" to jot down story and article ideas as they occur to me. Some days I can fill pages with one line outlines of future articles to write. Other times, my notebook may remain untouched at the bottom of my bag for weeks on end.
This made me stop and think. What do I do differently those days when the ideas flow like a faucet? I can only look back at my various articles and remember what motivated me at the time to write each one.
I know that my first "How to" piece was triggered by a phone call. A friend telephoned on the eve of her overseas holiday to ask for advice on how to carry her funds while abroad. I rattled off a list of suggestions without even blinking, surprising myself that I had so much knowledge on the subject. Unfortunately my dear friend seemed a little confused by this wave of information. Sensing this, I came up with a simple formula to help her remember the advice. Thus was born my 60/30/10 Rule on managing your holiday money. I learned from this experience that it was not just enough to have the information but to be able to structure it in a way that people could understand and remember.
This incident also made me think of other subjects that my friends and family seek my advice on. From packing for a trip, managing your career, even how to sell your writing. I now have a long list of "How to" article ideas to write based on this line of thought.
My interests have been the inspiration for a large portion of my articles. I like to run. I'm not a good runner, but I get a kick out of preparing for and entering amateur fun runs. The thrill of competing in my first overseas event prompted me to write about motivation and fulfilling ones dreams. An edited out line from this article then formed the basis of a piece on the positive impact music can have on your running. My inability to remember my coach's running tips provided me with the idea to create and then write about my motivational running shirt. His admiring comments on the physique of a passing male runner during one of our training runs provided me with the first of 12 reasons for my humor piece on why men who run are a good catch!
Even negative comments have fueled ideas. I overhead one runner make a less than flattering remark about the walking participants at an event. This produced another "how to" piece. This time offering advice and encouragement to walkers who participate in local fun run/walks.
My other great interest is travel. While the places I've visited and the experiences I've enjoyed appear in my articles, it is often the impact of these journeys on my daily life that lead to an idea for a story.
The little daily occurrences that prompt me to remember my travel buddies inspired me to write about the impact their friendships, despite their absence, have had on my life. Another great "trigger" inspiration was the near loss of one of my trilogy of rings acquired during these various trips. This made me think about the origin of each of these rings and the journey they represent for me as both a traveler and an individual.
However, my favorite "travel story" is actually one based on disappointment. It was while thinking about why a visit to New York City had been such a let down that I formulated a piece on expectations.
Luckily for me (and my credit card!) I don't always need to travel to find inspiration. Sometimes it is as close as my parent's refrigerator. The collection of papers my mother has stuck to the door of her fridge prompted a piece on competitiveness among seniors.
Simple actions by family and friends have also been the catalyst to an idea. My 7-year-old niece's recent interpretation of "secrets" made me think about my role as her aunt and the responsibilities I carry according to her Sri Lankan heritage as her "little mummy". This article on "Aunts and Nieces" is the one that is bubbling away in my head at present!
So where did the idea for this piece generate from? I must give credit to my relative, Glenora, who simply asked me, "Where do you get all your ideas?"
Susan Miles is from Melbourne Australia. She has recently taken her search for new writing ideas to Japan while she participates in a cultural exchange program teaching English and western culture to High School students. Susan plans to utilize this 12-month period in Japan to produce a series of travel features in partnership with English photographer Sally Pierce.
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