Finding Ideas: In the Community



Photo: Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

October 21, 2017


Yesterday morning during my commute to work, an elementary student leaned into me as she became increasingly uncomfortable about the adult male standing beside her aisle seat.

Noting her discomfit, I encouraged, “You can scoot closer if you want to.” She smiled gratefully, sliding over. Meanwhile, I pierced the dude with a “don’t you even think it” glare, keeping my neck turned in his direction until he exited the bus. My neck ached, but it was worth it. I had added a measure of comfort to my young seatmate’s school day.

An idea popped into my mind as she left the bus, “How to Keep Kids Safe on Public Transportation.”

Later, as I walked the few blocks from my bus stop to my office, a car nearly hit me – despite the fact there were 28 seconds visible on the signal’s timer. Pointing to it and mouthing, “I have the light,” I crossed the street.

An idea popped into my mind for an OP-ED newspaper article about the alarming number of pedestrians being hit in D.C., and my thoughts on how to keep commuters like me safe.

Then, when I walked into my building and swiped the keypad nothing happened. I had my commuter pass rather than my office badge in my hand. Correcting the error, I entered the doors, waved to the guard, and headed for the bank of elevators leading to my office.

And, then an idea popped into my mind for a humorous devotional about how mistakes are sometimes serendipitous; that badge snafu lightened my mood after the near-miss accident.

After getting settled, I headed to the bathroom. There, I noticed my pantyhose were sagging like crazy, and my skirt was badly askew. Adjusting the skirt, I considered going to the store for a new pair of pantyhose – or just head home. Chuckling, I imagined my supervisor’s reaction if I told him I needed to go home because of a wardrobe malfunction.

And then…you guessed it…an idea popped into my head.

Why am I sharing yesterday morning’s mishaps, which by the way happened all within a span of under two hours?

To show how ideas for our work abound.

New and advanced writers often struggle with the question, “Where can I find ideas?”

The answer: Everywhere!

Five common sources of inspiration are often overlooked. They are community, home, work, school, and the Internet. All provide myriad ideas for our poetry, flash fiction, personal essays, how-to-articles, interviews/profiles, contest entries, short stories, and books (fiction and nonfiction).

For each source of inspiration, I devote a blog post about how we can mine it. Today’s focus: community living.


Community Living

Take a stroll around your community, and chances are you have walked past dozens of ideas you can incorporate into a current or future project.

Your written opinion, for example, on community renovations, improvements or downturns, could be published if you use the right spin or tone.

Your concern about a pressing community matter, may generate resources and/or provide real solutions when shared in an article, blog, or other medium.

An interview of a community leader could net quotes for an article, provide occupational accuracy for a novel’s character, or spark a picture book idea.

As you walk – mentally or physically – through your community, pick out those ideas that may be locally, regionally or nationally interesting to potential readers. Some sources, including examples from my writing:

Community groups. My Urban Family article featured a New York City rap group building unity between Jews and African Americans.

Nonprofit organizations. For The Standard, I travelled from Maryland to New York City, my hometown, to interview a local pastor for a feature article.

Educational institutions. For The Black Collegian, I profiled Dr. Ruth Simmons, then the president of Smith College (not a local college, but an example of how writes can showcase these institutions).

Community leaders (religious, civic, political). I incorporated a humorous interaction with my son’s Maryland pediatrician in an essay, which was published in an anthology.

Businesses (new, old, historic; small). For Harford County Kids, I wrote an article on teaching kids to save, and interviewed a Maryland bank officer for relevant information and quotes.

Entertainment (new or unique ventures; home-town sports heroes; arts performances). My rap group article also falls into this area.

Neighbors (new, disgruntled, mysterious). For The Quiet Hour, I used my family’s Sunday habit of not locking our door to illustrate community living in a devotional.


Capturing and Retaining Ideas

How to capture these and other ideas? Be attentive to things happening in the community. Note interesting stories or ads in newspapers, regional magazines, or TV and radio broadcasts.

For any idea: jot down a word, title, theme, or a sentence or two about it and its source. Use index cards, notebooks, or notetaking software to retain the information. Also, clip or print noteworthy articles or ads. Where needed, date your entry, you may need to reference that date later – i.e., Three years ago…

Store that information for easy access and retention. Consider keeping an idea file – a notebook, journal, or file folder (traditional or electronic). When you’re stuck for an idea, pull your file out. Flip through it until one grabs your attention. Incorporate or develop that idea into a new or current project.

Capturing and retaining ideas in an organized fashion fuels inspiration. Granted, some of the ideas in our file we may never pursue. That’s OK. One idea can spark inspiration, moving us further along the road to project completion and/or publication.

Beginning today, look at your community not simply as a place where you live. Rather, also envision it as a source of inspiration, rich in ideas. Capture as many as possible, allowing them to fuel your inspiration and enrich your writing.


What about Idea Theft?

Do you worry about people stealing your ideas. Let it go!

Worrying about idea theft will block your creativity.

Also, stop brainstorming ways to protect your idea. Did you know ideas cannot be copyrighted? Here are the rules, note the section dubbed “What Is Not Protected by Copyright?”

Why do I share this?

Just in case anyone winced reading my article title about kids and daily commutes. Why am I not afraid someone will steal the idea inherent in the title? Because it’s just an idea. We all bring our own experiences into our writing, so even if someone else is inspired to write on the topic (go for it!), my article would be vastly different. The same is true of your writing project ideas.

Other Sources of Inspiration

Earlier I mentioned four other sources of inspiration: home, work, school, and the Internet. Stop by next week for individual blog posts about each.


Lisa A. Crayton is an award-winning freelance writer, multi-published author, conference speaker…and more. She loves helping writers, and challenging them to achieve their goals and dreams! Connect with her on Facebook.


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