Debbie Ridpath Ohi reads, writes and illustrates for young people. Every few weeks, she shares new art, writing and reading resources; subscribe below. Browse the archives here.

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Will Write For Chocolate


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Finding writing inspiration

First of all, thanks to Angela Hoy for giving Will Write For Chocolate a plug in her weekly e-mail newsletter for freelance writers, WritersWeekly. :-)

When I was in my early teens, I used to write fan letters to my favorite authors. In retrospect, I'm surprised at how many wrote back; some of them must have received hundreds of letters like mine on a regular basis. Here's a letter that Stephen King sent to me, for example. I asked Michael Crichton where he got his ideas...proudly thinking at the time, I'm sure, that I was asking an incredibly interesting question he had never received before. To Crichton's credit, he graciously responded with a handwritten note in which he also thanked me for my letter. His answer to my question about where he got his ideas: They just happen.

Nowadays, I carry a small notebook around with me all the time as well as a pen or pencil. I didn't always do this. Years ago, when I was first starting to write professionally, I recall being frustrated and somewhat panicked. It seemed like all the Good Ideas had been taken; what was there left to be written about? Whenever I did try to write something, the words seemed to fall flat and lifeless.


In desperation, I decided I needed an afternoon off, took a book and went to a nearby family diner. It was crowded, but I managed to find a seat near the window. Ordered something to eat, opened my book...but then got distracted by a conversation between two women sitting at a table next to me. They were clearly unhappy with a co-worker who had gotten promoted.

At first, I admit to feeling a tad guilty about eavesdropping. But then I thought, hey, they're having this conversation in a PUBLIC RESTAURANT.

After recovering from this momentary pang of conscience, I couldn't help but notice the interaction between a man and woman a few tables away, who were obviously having some kind of disagreement but not wanting to talk about it too openly. They wielded their cutlery like weapons and avoided each other's gazes as they went through the motions of a civilized meal.

And then there was the somewhat scruffy older man in the corner, obviously a regular. He was pretending to read the newspaper, but he kept surreptitously looking around the room...just like me.

Hm, probably a writer.

So many stories, and so many interesting characters! I was immediately inspired to incorporate some of these into my own writing projects.

And I realized that I had been retreating into hermit mode over recent weeks, mistakenly assuming that the self-imposed isolation would force me into greater creativity. What I needed instead: to get out in the world, to start listening and observing with a writer's ears and eyes, to start noticing again.

I've found this applies to non-fiction writers as much as fiction. Possible article ideas lie waiting in every dreaded cocktail party, every conversation, every stroll through the neighborhood. Not necessarily GOOD ideas, mind you; the next step, of course, is picking and choosing what interests you most, deciding on which ideas to pursue, which have the most potential.

So...where do YOU get your ideas? What inspires you to write?

Some related online resources

(feel free to post others you'd recommend to writers!)

Sal Towse has a section devoted to "creative nudges" in her massive writers' resource site.

Writing prompts from Writer's Digest, Creative Writing Prompts,, Creativity Portal.

You can find some inspirational writers' quotes in, and I've always loved quotes by and for writers. If you have any favorites, please do post them below!

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