Thinking Outside

First published on Writers Bloc

There seems to be an unspoken rule, that as writers we must have ideas flowing like a continuous fountain. To the uninitiated, it appears that we’re sitting on an abundance of thoughts just waiting to be romanced into words, and that the only problem is stringing them together (oh, how I wish).

Mindfulness is a lingering buzzword. However, being mindful and present is one of the most useful tools I use when ideas run dry. It may sound like pseudo Instagram #inspo philosophy, but most of us rarely do it. We live in a world which we look at, but don’t take in. By paying attention to external surroundings, you open up a world of potential ideas. It takes conscious thought and observation to bring these ideas to life, but the following advice is a guide on what has worked for me.

Look Up and Jot Down

Our attention can be limited – among the Buzzfeed articles and dog-walking-on-its-hind-legs gifs, we forget to look up. We think we take the world in, but it’s mostly momentary glances up from our phones in order to dodge something; hearing something odd or someone bumping into us – even then, we only look up because the world has broken into our personal space. We go through the day thinking about lunch, what we’re doing later, the future, the past… and we don’t take in the present. This is where writing things down helps a lot. Jot down what you see. Even if it’s just in your phone notes – it really helps cement an idea and view it clearly to help it grow.

Get among it

I’ve found that studying or working somewhere central sparks all kinds of writing inspiration. The CBD provides thousands of strange conversations, weird and wonderful people, and scenarios that you can accidentally stumble upon, and that can make for great ideas. They don’t need to be groundbreaking – for instance, a while ago I saw a man walking with a big bouquet of flowers. Let me show you what my writing mind did next:
Who are they for? What if he trips over and the flowers fall on the ground, ruined? What If I bring another character into the mix? Or put the man and his flowers in a different location? Maybe a happy, chubby Labrador could come waddling over and eat them. Huzzah! A story idea.

Public Viewing

Cafes & public transport are prime spots to find inspiration for your writing. It’s particularly useful to “overhear” the ridiculous conversations that go on. My favourite over-hear was a drunken businessman talking to his mistress – you know when you’re drunk on the phone and you think people can’t hear you, but they definitely can? It was one of those. He wobbled and slurred his words as he pleaded for her to come over, and then proceeded to ask how ‘Geoff’ (presumably her husband) was going. It was excellent. And everyone else was completely oblivious to it.

Forget yourself, and become a floating sponge in life – really watch the way people interact. This means everything – body language, mannerisms, the way people talk on the phone, their tone, right down to the location.

Pay especially close attention in intimate spaces or places where you find yourself spending uncomfortable amounts of times with others in a confined area – public transport, waiting areas, and the like.

Find your angle

To find a way to make use of what we’ve observed and noted, it can be useful to try to align these things with our own values. What do you think about it? What do you have to say?

“How does this person feel about this situation?”

“How would someone else feel about this situation right now?”

“Why does this occur in society and how do I feel about it?”

For both fiction and nonfiction writers, this questioning can help you find an angle – a way in – to your story.


It’s too easy to ignore cues, zone out and think of ourselves, but noticing life and thinking about it is something we already do. If you feel short on ideas, you can tap into this reflective part of yourself. Practice being engaged with your surroundings and feeling present, and allow this to connect you with your creativity.

Be present, listen, watch, observe. Ask more questions and seek answers. Ask yourself ‘why?’

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