9 Ways to Spark Story Ideas When You're Feeling Stuck

Sometimes, you’re staring at a blank page and there’s just nothing there. Your characters are stale, your story doesn’t hold much interest, and the ending is uninspired or non-existent. If this sounds like you, take some time to think about what inspired you to write in the first place. Then, read through these nine ways to spark story ideas when you’re feeling stuck to get back into writing mode and come up with something that readers will love!

1) Think about what makes you different

What makes you different from everyone else? If you’re in a major urban center, chances are it’s not going to be as simple as having lived in a rural village your whole life. You need something that sets you apart – but isn’t so out there that people dismiss it right away. Start by identifying some of your qualities and then dig deeper for those unique facets that set you apart. And if you have trouble thinking about what makes you unique, think about what one or two qualities draw others to your personality. If it's your sense of humor, ask yourself: What makes my humor so funny? Or if it's more serious things like business knowledge or good looks - ask yourself: What can I do with my knowledge?

2) Write about your family history

Write a detailed story about your family history: when they were born, where they lived, what they did for a living, how many children they had, and so on. Write it as if you were writing it down in a journal – go back generations and create rich characters. Use any photos that you have or head down to your local library and dig through their genealogy section. Who knows? Maybe you'll uncover some long-lost cousins!

3) Ask yourself who, what, where, and why questions

A story needs a problem, so start by asking yourself who or what is in conflict, where that problem is happening, and why. The answers to these questions can then lead you down many different avenues: characters (man vs. man, man vs. nature) or plotlines (boy meets girl, boy loses girl). Because you can’t tell every story idea you come up with, write them all down and make sure they’re easily accessible—you never know when an idea will be perfect for a scene you’re writing later on.

4) Make an interesting observation

This is one of my favorite exercises. It gets me out of my own head and connects me with what's around me—it brings me back to being present in the moment. Whenever I'm feeling uninspired, I look for something interesting that catches my eye, whether it's a relationship between objects, colors, or people. Finding that thing that just pops out at you can be enough inspiration to spark a story idea from scratch. Many times it’s not even anything tangible—sometimes it's just an emotion that comes across so strongly in an interaction between two people (which can happen anywhere!) and you decide there must be a story behind their exchange. Start observing your surroundings; capture pictures or take mental notes so you have fodder for later!

5) Use free writing or mind mapping

Sometimes coming up with story ideas is more difficult than putting them on paper. That’s why we suggest trying a technique like freewriting or mind mapping to get your creative juices flowing. Freewriting involves just that—writing, and nothing else. The point is simply to get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper without editing yourself in any way. In our opinion, it’s a great warm-up exercise that can loosen you up for more complex brainstorming or idea-generation exercises later on.

6) Go for a walk in the park

The next time you’re stuck on a story idea, head out of your office and go for a walk. A 2012 study from Stanford University found that walking helps people come up with new ideas and solve problems by improving creativity. Walking allows you to see things in a new way, said study co-author Frank J. Landy, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Stanford. You might discover something about yourself or meet someone new who gives you an idea. So before popping open that bottle of wine at dinner tonight, get moving first—your brainstorm could be just around the corner! (Psst... Other research says that alcohol can actually stifle creativity.)

7) Try something new

Challenging yourself intellectually or learning something entirely new will help you discover ideas and insights that you wouldn’t otherwise have noticed. Start a new hobby, take a class, learn to speak a foreign language, and volunteer for an organization—as long as it’s outside your comfort zone. All these new experiences will open up possibilities for your story. One of my favorite examples is journalist Terry McDonell who was asked by his editor at Esquire Magazine if he could interview Jessica Simpson.

8) Think about writing as creating a wish list of things you would like to know more about

Try taking a look at your life through a new lens. What is missing in your life? What would you like to know more about? For example, if you’re writing a romance novel, what kinds of things does it make you curious about? What made your heart skip a beat when you were falling in love for the first time? Are there certain questions that keep floating around in your head about relationships, dating, or sex? How can you incorporate these into your story to make it as realistic and as intriguing as possible?

9) Do some research on your topic

Research is an important part of any piece of writing. In some cases, you’ll be building off existing research. Other times, you’ll need to conduct your own research. Try different methods: If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, don’t rely on one method or even one genre. Mix things up a bit and try a variety of approaches until you see what works for you.


As you can see, there are a variety of ways you can spark story ideas when they’re not flowing. The key is to have a set of tools at your disposal so that you can quickly come up with an idea no matter what situation you’re in. Once you’ve got some good ideas, all that’s left is writing! The rest is up to creativity and hard work.

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