The Art of Finding Ideas

April 11, 2016 12:11:05 AM

Every writer who has ever lived has lusted after ideas.

Where are they, how do I get them, and how do I keep them coming?

If you’ve been writing long enough, you know that — like Solomon — there is nothing new under the sun.

Try as you might to sweat them out of your head or pull them gently from the stars above, there are no new ideas.

So, relax.

But the page is not going to write itself, is it? Where then do we turn for ideas that work, ideas that move, ideas that persuade?

In short, we “steal” them.

The moment you free yourself from The Cult of Originality, you realize that original ideas do not come from within.

They are given to us, from without.

A writer should not look inside, but outside, at external sources, stories, events, and emotions.

If you’re offended that I’d suggest you “steal” ideas, please get over it. You’re already a thief — you just don’t know it.

Here are two of the most significant idea repositories on Earth …

1. The modern media is a torrent of ideas

In this information age, you have absolutely no reason to “draw a blank.”


What used to take days and weeks to research and learn, can take us mere moments.

In fact, the only problem we have now is one of finding trusted curators. We need to develop self-discipline and discernment in seeking out correct information from reliable sources.

There is no drought of ideas.

Brian Clark once wrote:

“You have more computing power in your pocket than it took to send men to the moon. What are you doing with it?”


Are you wasting it or harnessing it? You don’t need to go to the moon; the crossroads will do just fine.

Research. Read. Compile.

Product manuals, literature, interviews, talk radio, podcasts, magazines, newspapers, television, Twitter, Google Trends, movies, Wikipedia, and on and on and on …

It’s all there, right in your pocket, waiting to be compiled and analysed. And it’s actually more than you’ll ever need.

So use it. Don’t let it use you.

2. People will give you exactly what you’re looking for

Ideas are walking around everywhere out there.

Eugene Schwartz once told a story about a copywriting job he was working on.

He met with the client and asked him to start talking about the product. They ended up sitting together for four hours — the client talking, and Schwartz simply listening and taking notes.

Later that night, while he was waiting for his wife to get ready for a night out in Manhattan, Schwartz sat down and wrote the ad.

The entire ad.

He said about 70 percent of the finished copy was composed of his client’s own words.

The headline itself was a phrase the client had hit on, word for word.

He waited two weeks, mailed the ad to the client, and they both made a lot of money.

You might think this was some kind of dirty trick on Schwartz’s part, but you’d be wrong.

Schwartz knew how to write a powerful direct response ad. The client didn’t.

Schwartz was smart enough to know that the client knew (in this case) his own product better than he ever could, and simply translated that knowledge and passion onto paper.

The ideas were sitting in the client’s head and Schwartz knew exactly what to do with them.

It goes further …

For better or worse, a writer is working all the time.

Phone calls with friends, the plumber, your spouse, your child, your boss, your client, your neighbor — they are all constantly giving you ideas.

They are all constantly telling you what they — and the entire world — truly want.

It’s all grist for the mill.

All you need to do is … listen.

Steal this post

Eugene Schwartz summed this up for me perfectly:

“You don’t have to have great ideas if you can hear great ideas.”

I stole this post from him, and he stole it from many others.

Listen more. Talk less.

Read less. Read better.

The Art of Finding Ideas is then … the act of going out and finding ideas.

Originality? That’ll come from using your own voice, and your voice develops from writing more. And more. And more.

Where have you been getting your ideas?

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on October 18, 2011.

Image source: Jamie Street via Unsplash.

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