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The Art of the Idea

By Ashleigh Smollet

“The cure for writers cramp is writer’s block.” - Inigo DeLeon
For writers, their stories and story ideas are their currency. This is what writers have to offer; their contribution to the world.

Perhaps the most dreaded words to a professional scribe are “writer’s block.”  There is, of course, no quick fix for writer’s block. However, some writers find that if they are stumped for ideas, they need not look any further than inside themselves.

Many smart, successful and prosperous writers base their story ideas (when they have them) solely on their own life, and their own experiences, thoughts, feelings and conflicts.

“As a parent, I have a three-year old son, and I have pitched a lot of ideas just based on my experiences raising him,” says the Toronto Sun’s education columnist Moira MacDonald.

This of course begs the question: will your writing be more relatable (and therefore have more impact) if it is based on shared life experiences, or do writers need to be looking beyond themselves in order to challenge the status quo and bring forth new ideas?

Both theories have their supporters.

“I absolutely come up with ideas from my own day-to-day life,” says freelance journalist Paul McLaughlin. “Those are often the best. You look around, you observe, you listen, and if it catches your curiosity, then that’s often the best kind of story because nobody else is doing it, and it’s just yours.”

There is also a school of journalists who feel that personal experiences have no place within the confines of journalistic writing.

Another freelance journalist, Randy Scott said, “I get my ideas for news from news – lots of on-line newspapers. That and Jon Stewart ... I really look for anything that has to do with how news affects the populous. In my creative writing I use personal experiences, but never in my journalistic writing.”

There seems to be a fine line between using personal experiences to spice up your writing and making it an outlet for all of your personal frustrations and happenings.

“If writers stopped writing about what happened to them, then there would be a lot of empty pages,” said journalist Elaine Liner.

Writers have long been inspired by their own personal experiences – from Hemingway writing about his experiences with bullfighting, war and fishing, to Sylvia Plath’s biographical poetry. 

These are two of the most prolific writers in Western literature, and their example certainly supports the theory that personal themes and experiences serve to enhance a writer’s work.

It seems that a writer’s own passions and torments can more often than not serve to enhance the poignancy of the words. It has the same effect as watching a movie that we know is a true story - truth is almost always stranger than fiction.

U.S. Navy Admiral Hymen G. Rickover once said, “Great minds discuss ideas.  Average minds discuss events.  Small minds discuss people.”

As writers, we don’t always aspire to have great minds, but we will always aspire to have great ideas.