The inspiration for this article came from talking with a customer at work. He was a minister who found he had to move on to a new church more often than he’d like because he seemed to run out of things to say. Bloggers and article writers come up against a similar problem; moving on to a new subject because they are out of ideas.
Maximize your idea production with an ideas file. I’ve talked about ideas files before as part of the multiple draft writing process in the article “Stages of the Writing Process“. This time, the focus is on getting the most out of an ideas file.
The computer version of an ideas file is a word processor document. If you prefer paper, a ring binder works best. You can easily add sheets or remove completed articles or speeches.
Articles Versus Speeches
While I’m going to be talking about writing articles, these tips also apply to speeches. There are a few differences.
Articles are read by the audience directly and must include everything to be said. Speeches are made aloud with only brief reference to the points. Only enough info must be written about each point to allow the speaker to deliver their message.
An article is generally limited to between 500 and 2000 words. Less is a note; more is usually two articles. A speech is limited to 22 minutes because beyond that point the audience starts daydreaming.
The format of an article is an introduction to the topic, several points with bold headings and a conclusion. The format of a speech is the same with each of the points also assigned a time estimate.
Can You Plagiarize an Idea?
No. Ideas cannot be copyrighted. If they could, there would be almost no new books, movies, games, or inventions. For example, “Family Guy” is a “Simpsons” rip off which is a “Flintstones” rip off which is a “Honeymooners” rip off.
Only finished products can be copyrighted. So, go ahead and steal ideas from everywhere. Just be sure you write your own articles and speeches without going back to the original. That makes it your finished product.
Always Have Paper and Pen to Capture Ideas
The number one way to maximize the size of your ideas file is to always be ready to capture ideas. Always have some means of writing down ideas as soon as you get them. You won’t remember them later if you don’t write them down. You can take a small notepad and pen everywhere.
Keep Updating Your Ideas File
Make it a daily habit to update your ideas file from your notes. No new notes? No problem. Work on the ideas already in the file. Each time you read through the ideas, you have an opportunity to add something.
The Search for Ideas
If you don’t look for ideas, you won’t find any. When you make it a habit to be on the lookout for ideas, you will find a lot. With practice, you will find more ideas than you have time to develop. Where do the ideas come from?
This should be your number one source of new ideas, but they aren’t going to appear in a vacuum. You must experience life. That gives you little stories that launch unique articles. Your topic may be old but your stories are new.
Sometimes you will have an interesting experience that doesn’t inspire an article. Write it into your ideas file anyway. Later, an article may develop around it. Every time you review your ideas file, you have different things on your mind. Ideas that started as duds sometimes become great articles.
Reading books, magazines and websites related to what you’re writing can give you lots of ideas. You’re only in danger of copying what you read if you’ve only read about it in one place. The cure for that is to research further. Get lots of other writers’ takes on the subject and then write your own.
Books are especially useful for new ideas. Every chapter can offer another article idea. If it’s a textbook, every heading may have a new idea. An easy way to be sure you don’t imitate another writer is to only write down the idea. Then, leave it alone until another day. When you return to it, you will need to generate your own explanation.
While speeches are monologues, your reaction is a sort of dialogue. What would you have said differently? What did the speaker miss? What did they get wrong? Listening to a talk is a lot like reading an article. If you can get more than one article idea from it, you’re doing well.
Turn Full Ideas into Articles
As you work on your ideas file, some of the ideas will grow into full length articles. It’s time for those to move out of the ideas file. On computer, move them to their own word processor file. On paper, move them to an articles binder.
A good line to put in the header area of each new article is the draft level. How many drafts you use depends on the quality you’re going for and the time you’re willing to put in. This is what I use;
1-rough, 2-add, 3-cut, 4-readability (aloud), 5-typos
An article is rough until it looks complete.
In the add draft, I make sure I have said all that needs to be said.
In the cut draft, I look for extra wording, unnecessary modifiers, and anything that looks like filler.
In the read aloud draft, I make sure it flows smoothly from start to end.
The typos draft is my last chance to correct spelling and grammar.
On Splitting Big Ideas
Some of your ideas will be big enough for two or more articles. You’ll know by the length. If an article seems too long, either you’re being wordy or you have developed more than one idea. The article your reading now has that potential. It could be turned into an article on article ideas and another on speech ideas.
Another kind of split comes when you realize you’ve written about a topic so rich that you’ve produced a summary article. An overview of a deep topic is a fine article in itself and you can maximize its value by writing additional articles on each of its sub-topics.
Keep a Listing of Published Articles
A good article listing has the title, date of publication, and one or two lines describing the subject. This allows you to quickly see what you’ve already published and gives you ideas for articles that are missing.
Article by Ivan Izo.