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Stop the Mental Blanks – Idea Generation for Freelance Writers

Any writer will know the horror of the curser sitting and blinking at you while you stare at the blank computer screen, waiting for the ideas to come. You know the deal, you’ve set aside the time to write and you are keen to write. You may even have the pressure of making a deadline for a publisher or a client. However, your mind just doesn’t want to cooperate and you can’t think of an idea that will lead to a great article, or story.

Here are seven ways of generating ideas that will hopefully get your mind working again and will help you to limit the fruitless times of mental blanks that every freelance writer experiences at some point in their writing career.

1 – Picture File
Collecting a variety of pictures can really help writers to generate ideas. You can use your picture collection in a number of ways. You may just like to search for pictures or visual references that match the topic you are writing on. Then, use the pictures as a platform to set up your dive into your creative side and write from there.

Some writers will select three pictures at random and see if they can come up with anything that links the three pictures. This often generates ideas that are totally different and original to what others are writing about, giving your writing a competitive edge in the freelance market.

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2 – Ideas Folder

Successful freelance writers all have one thing in common: an ideas folder. Whenever a writer is looking for ideas, this is the first place to look. Creating an ideas folder is easy.

Start by brainstorming all the topics you know something about already and could easily write about without spending too much time on research. Then expand your list of ideas to include any subjects that interest you and that you would like to research and write on. Keep your ideas folder handy and spend at least ten minutes a week reviewing it and adding to your list. Soon, you will have more ideas than you have time to write!

3 – Magazines and Newspapers
Magazines and newspapers are terrific breeding grounds for new ideas. First, the articles in the magazine or newspaper caught your attention and are printed because the publishers believe these topics are likely to attract the masses to read their publications. Do not ever re-write someone else’s article as this is poor form for freelance writers and is not ethical.

However, you can use magazines and newspapers to generate ideas of your own. If you read an article and end up asking yourself questions about the article or thinking that the article did not address both sides of the argument, you have generated your idea to write about. You can write the other side of the argument or research to answer the questions generated from reading the original article.

Many freelance writers will clip articles that interest them, jot notes in the margin space about ideas and keep the articles in their hard copy ideas folder. Whenever a writer faces mental blanks and needs fresh ideas, the ideas are available in the ideas folder.

4 – Title Match Game
A great place to get ideas is a public library. Browse through the shelves and look at the titles of books. See if any titles of books can be matched together to generate new ideas. This can be a lot of fun. You may not get ideas from every title, but you will certainly generate many ideas in one short session at the library. If you are visiting the library for research, take half an hour to play this game too. You’ll probably generate about 20 ideas to take away with you (and preferably write into your ideas folder before you forget them).

5 – The Pub-Barometer
This is a great idea generator that many journalists use. The idea is that if someone is talking about it in the pub, it must be a hot topic and is therefore worth writing about.

The pub or bar is not the only place to use as a writing barometer. Any large, public, social gathering place such as a café, church, sporting event or community gathering can be a great place to gather ideas. Listen to what people are having conversations about. These are the things that are important to them at the time.

Chat to as many people outside your normal network of friends as possible. You just never know when you will get an idea for a story or article to write. You may even end up interviewing some of the people you meet out and about at the community events.

6 – Community Noticeboards and Billboards

In a similar way to the ‘pub-barometer’, community noticeboards will give you great ideas as to what is important to your local community. If it is important to locals, it may also attract attention in the wider writing market.

Billboards, posters and advertisements in the street can also generate ideas. Whenever you go for a walk, keep your eyes pealed for ideas and an open mind. Sometimes the graphics of posters and billboards can remind you of someone or something that you know is a great idea for a story. Most people are not good at making observations. Practice the art of seeing and observing as you walk along.

7 – Story Board
Cartoonists and movie makers use a story board system, where pictures tell the story or show each scene. Writers can also use this technique to generate ideas and also to ensure their writing has an appropriate structure once they have started. Creating a mini story board at the start of the writing process can help writers stay on track with reminders of what comes next. This helps to stop the mental blank situation in the middle of the article or story you are writing.

Invest in a whiteboard that you can hang in your writing room or office. Draw your story board or jot notes about the structure of your article. When you have finished writing, you can rub it out and start another story board for the next article.

Use these techniques to generate ideas for writing and to stop the frustration of mental blanks and the blank computer screen. You will be amazed at how many ideas you can generate in a short time, if you give yourself a chance. Start collecting your ideas together so that when you need them, they are available in an easily accessible place.

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