Need Writing Inspiration? 5 Unexpected Places to Find It

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Inspiration is a peculiar and elusive concept for writers.

For most of us, it’s the reason we do what we do. We were “called” in some way or another to speak with the world through our written words.

And yet, inspiration can leave us cold and lonely, like a forgotten summer toy buried beneath a mound of December snow.

When the words stop flowing and the muse refuses to sing, it’s up to each of us to thaw that freeze and find new tales, wherever they may be hiding.

If you’re having trouble activating your imagination, try looking in these five unusual places for a burst of writing inspiration.

1. The grocery store

Not many experiences in life are more mundane than a trip to the supermarket. But you can turn that trek into a tremendous source of ideas if you’re willing to do a little people-watching.

Why is that middle-aged woman buying 24 boxes of kids’ cereal? Who is that distinguished older gentleman thumping on melons in the produce department — and why have you never seen him in the neighborhood before?

Every face in every aisle has a story to tell, if you’re paying attention. It’s up to you to uncover those tales and put them to paper.

2. Your kids’ toy box

Pop quiz: At what point in your life was your imagination at its peak?

Sadly, most of us were at our creative best when we were children, before the ho-hum of everyday life stunned our senses and blunted our originality.

You can regain some of those youthful thought processes by rummaging through your children’s toys and pretending that you have nothing else in the world to do other than play make-believe. Just be aware you might have some explaining to do if you get caught!

If you don’t have kids, check out the toy section of Amazon or any other online retailer and let your inner-child’s creativity run free.

Either way, it’s a candy store for your mind.

3. Your closet

Unless you’re a staunch minimalist, you have a closet (or two) full of clothes and baubles that you haven’t used in years. Heck, maybe you haven’t even seen them in years.

Those dusty old shoes and yellowed magazines lurking at the back of your closet are a treasure chest of plot lines just waiting for you to (re)discover. Why not spend a few minutes digging through your past to see what kinds of story ideas you can kindle?

You never know: Your best-selling novel might be lurking inside that grimy old cowboy hat that disappeared into the shadows long before number signs became hashtags.

4. Graveyards

This one may seem a bit macabre, but cemeteries offer a bottomless cup of story ideas if you know how to read them.

Step through the rusted wrought-iron gateway of any old graveyard, and opportunities for inspiration will swallow you whole.

From unusual names to spooky headstones to gnarled, twisted trees, there is nowhere to run to escape the pull of forgotten lives and eroded memories just waiting to be investigated.

5. Grandma’s photo albums

Every family has a grandmother or aunt who can bring any get-together to a screeching halt by whipping out her camera for an endless series of “candid” pictures.

We all dread her, and many of us go to great lengths to avoid her.

But as a sensitive, caring person, you might learn to appreciate those photos over time. More importantly, as a writer, you should be downright thankful for that overbearing shutterbug.

She has collected the images of a lifetime and stacked them neatly in albums for the sake of posterity, building a family history you will never find anywhere else.

There is a tale woven into the Kodachrome fabric of each of those faded faces, and every one is a chapter in the book of you.

What could be more inspirational than that?

Inspiration is individual

Not all of these ideas will appeal to you — in fact, it might be that none of them appeal to you. Writers come in all shapes and sizes, after all, and what works for me could be a complete dead end for you.

The point of talking about cemeteries and ten-gallon hats to find story concepts is not to say those devices will deliver surefire motivation for every author, but that we all need to actively cultivate our own models of inspiration.

It’s awesome when you’re walking down the street and the genesis for your next book sprouts into the middle of your brain, but you can’t count on that happening all the time.

Most of us would be better off watching the clouds and the businessmen and the lovers who share the world with us than turning all our attention inward when we’re fishing for ideas.

Inspiration is all around us, and, sometimes, the greatest bolt of lightning is smoldering under the next misshapen rock. You just need to turn it over.

What are some unusual spots you’ve found writing inspiration?

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Adam Hughes is an author and technology professional from central Indiana. Visit his website to read more of his work and to download his free guide on how writers can use ... .

Adam Hughes | @HughesAuthor

Adam Hughes
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  1. This article was enlightening, stuffed with inspirational ideas.

  2. A great contribution Adam. I found it affirming and extremely practical. I am keen to share your suggestions with teachers and students with whom I work. Airports and beaches often provide me with inspiration and ideas. The passing parade and the floating conversations are bountiful.

  3. Kate Bales says:

    One of the most interesting places that I have found to people watch is the city bus. There are an endless variety of characters, ranging from school children to university professors, and everything in between. Unobtrusively listening to the conversation of a group of grannies enroute to their weekly bingo game can provide the perspective of the elderly, while the daily commuter can offer hints on how people manage to juggle careers and households.

    Pick your route and schedule according to your needs. If writing a young adult novel, catch a bus that goes near a high school at dismissal time. For the outlook of the average working person, grab a commuter express. Most of these people are long time riders and the ride will often have a party atmosphere, with the riders celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, engagements, grandchildren, and new pets. Join the conversation. They’re friendly! I drove an express route for over 5 years, and could easily write a complete book on the experience.

    • That’s a great idea, Kate. For those of us who live in the country and don’t regularly ride a city bus, other pubic venues might be suitable proxies: football games, the library, farmers’ markets.

      Thanks for reading, and for the suggestion.


  4. One of the best places to gain inspiration, I’ve found, is at the laundromat. There are a lot of interactions going on there. Even if you only wash and dry one load of clothes, it’s usually enough time to witness, (and guess about), family dynamics. And, if you’re feeling blue, or awful weather has you feeling claustrophobic, it’s a great outlet. Just arm yourself with a roll of quarters, a hot cup of coffee, tea, or cocoa, and a small notebook and pen or pencil. You’re on your way.

    • Interesting … you could probably come up with some pretty good ideas just by watching some of the laundry go ’round, too, and imagining how it got to where it is at that moment in time.

      Maybe a tad voyeuristic, but discretion is a skill worth polishing, anyway.

  5. Lady A. Lagoon says:

    Very intresting article!

    I also recommend video games as a way to relieve writer’s block as well,because not only do you invision a world,you also play in it as well and can drum up ideas for new plots to the games,as well as new twists and even new characters.

    • I’m not a gamer, but a friend has suggested this to me, too. I’ve also seen how my son gets swallowed up in Minecraft, so I’m sure there are many good stories to be found in video games.

      Thanks for reading.


      • I second the video game way to get inspiration. It depends on the genre that you are writing, but I find that for Science fiction & fantasy, video games and sci-fi movies/books are what inspire me because that is what I read/write. I can’t find fantasy inspiration at the supermarket because my characters don’t shop as a supermarket. However, playing my favorite video game and shooting or killing some monsters does inspire me to think of the kinds of monsters my characters are going to be killing!

  6. My problem isn’t finding the initial inspiration, it’s keeping it going through to the end. I’ve got this novel–my characters sat around staring at a fire for something like FIVE YEARS before I finally got the “log jam” untangled and they moved on to the next day. It was enough that I decided to attempt NaNoWriMo, but then I got distracted by making coloring books.

    • Hi Wendy …

      I find that my most productive writing times are the ones I actually schedule between other obligations. It may be only 15 minutes here or 30 minutes there, but that tight window makes writing urgent for me in that moment.

      Once I can do this a few days in a row, my rust is usually gone and it gets a lot easier. I do agree that distractions are hard to ignore, especially when they’re new and/or shiny.


  7. I think nature parks would be great places for provoking inspiration as well. Especially when there is a beautiful weather outside, and you just want to merge your soul with the sounds of nature. These places are pretty good! I attempted to try the grocery stores one, but there were too many people for me to focus on developing a storyline. I find the graveyards to be really spooky, but yet, each tombstone retains a tragedy of its own. Great job!

    • Hi Son,

      I agree that natural settings are wonderful for tapping into your creativity. I tend to find a lot of “from-thin-air” stories during long walks outdoors.


  8. Hey Adam, that was pretty nice idea you mentioned. I actually need a lot of it to get me back on my pens. Perhaps knowing you personally may bring more inspirations that i need…

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