Saturday, April 1, 2023

A Writer’s Idea Germinator

by Tim Suddeth @TimSuddeth

I’ve been writing for The Write Conversation since January 2017. Amazing, isn’t it? I thought it wouldn’t last. What did I know about writing?

And I still feel that way. It seems the more I learn about writing, the more I learn I don’t know that much about it.

Recently, I started reading Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies for Fun and Profit. Block is a Shamus and Edgar-awards winner and an author of over forty novels (many under pseudonyms). And for many years, he wrote an article on writing for Writers Digest.

In his preface to Telling Lies, he makes a comment that nails how I often feel about writing a monthly post for The Write Conversation. Block writes that once or twice a year, while he was writing his articles, his editor would ask him for a list of his upcoming column topics. He says that it would have been easier to “supply maps of the far side of the moon. More often than not, I complete each column I’ll have to give up the job, that I’ll never again be able to come up with a viable theme for a column. Somehow, within the next thirty days a topic suggests itself and I find a way to approach it. I’ve learned to take it on faith that this will happen.”

Here, here. That has been my experience writing this column for the last six years. Most months, I’m ready to tell Edie I have to quit because I don’t have a clue for a new idea. (Oops, please don’t tell Edie. Let’s keep that our little secret.) But then, toward the end of the month, something begins wriggling in the back of my brain. (Our spec readers should like that.)

Whether you’re a new writer or have been writing for years, there is often a worry that you’re running out of ideas. Block illustrates this fear by talking about a raft. You’re sitting on the raft, taking boards from both ends to make a fire to keep warm. You can either replace the boards (ideas) or bye-bye boat.

If you don’t continue creating new ideas, you’ll run out of stories.

Here are some suggestions for how to continue to come up with ideas and stories.

1. Stay out of ruts.

Routines can be good. They can save us time and let us complete mindless tasks while we think about something else. But it is that mindlessness that can be the enemy to finding new ideas.

My wife laughs at me because whenever we go somewhere, she never knows how we are going to get there. And neither do I. I like to take different ways so I can see more of the country. Going the same way may give you time to run through your thoughts, but how many times have you arrived somewhere and have no idea how you got there?

By taking different routes, not doing things the same way, you open yourself to the opportunity to see or experience something new.

2. Be conscious of your surroundings.

A popular question writers get asked often is, where do you get your ideas? I want to say, “Open your eyes. Our world is packed full of them.”

Notice the city streets around you, the sights, the sounds. Look at the fields and trees surrounding you. Are there any plants or animals? Is the wheat swaying with the breeze? I just saw a hawk being chased off by a jay and thought what a lesson that showed.

3. Don’t stop learning.

Whether you do it formally by taking a course or watching a podcast or informally by reading or starting a hobby, never stop learning. The more you learn, and the more eclectic your learning, the more unique and three-dimensional your ideas will be.

And don’t limit your learning to your writing topics. If you set strict expectations to what you study, you might miss those God moments He plans to surprise you with.

Block mentions a course he planned to take in architecture. “I don’t know how the course will benefit my writing, and I don’t have to know, because input is a different thing altogether from research. The latter looks for answers where the former isn’t even aware of the questions.”

4. Hang out.

Writers tend to be a solitary bunch and the pandemic just fed our hermit tendencies. But staying inside, in our ruts, with the same old same old is not a productive way to get new ideas.

Go to where the people are. Find the energy that comes from (gulp) a crowd.

Travel. Whether it’s to a local event or to a new city. The key thing is to open yourself up to new experiences.

Our world, God’s wonderful creation, is a fertile ground for new ideas. (Solomon was wrong when he said that there is nothing new under the sun. Remember, he said that in the Old Testament.)

The question isn’t where to go to get ideas, but will we be open to them when they pop up?

Where do you find your ideas?


Tim Suddeth is a stay-at-home dad and butler for his wonderful, adult son with autism. He has written numerous blogs posts, short stories, and three novels waiting for publication. He is a frequent attendee at writers conferences, including the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference and a member of Word Weavers and ACFW. He lives near Greenville, SC where he shares a house with a bossy Shorky and three too-curious Persians. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter, as well as at and


  1. Tim, if you're being honest, I'll be honest too: I struggle with the same fear: FOROOI (Fear Of Running Out of Ideas). All your suggestions are great. I'll add one more: When you get an idea from staying out of ruts or (gulp) hanging out with people, write the idea down right then. We've all experienced the fail of the "I'll remember it later" promise. I like to use the Notes app on my phone.

    1. Ain’t that the truth. Good tip.
      Tim Suddeth

  2. You have so many good take-always in the article. I love the idea of taking a new class for which you don’t know the questions - but that is so scary and uncomfortable. Exactly. I identified from the beginning thinking I’ll never have another worthy idea. Thank you for the encouraging ideas. I’ll second the idea of saving the idea immediately in whatever form that takes. I often talk-to-text a note or email to myself because otherwise the idea floats away.

    1. Emailing yourself is a great idea.
      Tim Suddeth

  3. Thanks for the ideas, Tim! You are always helpful.

  4. Great post, Tim. Many times I have thought that I would run out of ideas for blog posts, but somehow (thank You, Lord) an idea creeps into my mind that is blog worthy. When people ask where I get my ideas for my books and articles, my response is the same as yours---open your eyes---ideas are everywhere!

  5. Nicely put. Going places is vital. The sights, smells, tastes, sounds, people, customs, and history of a place, activity, and setting is always surprisingly more and different than imagination. And the experience adds to our writers tool box.

  6. I agree with going to places. We can't come up with new ideas if we simply stay at home. Being around others stirs up ideas and characers, and it's so much funner!