Getting outside my box

A writer at a keyboard is like a car motoring down the road. At some point, you need to stop for fuel.

For the car, it’s gas. For the writer, it’s ideas.

In web and marketing writing, the ideas come pretty much pre-defined:

“Write an email that makes people want to click through to check out our products.”
“Describe the conference highlights in a newsletter article.”
“Use a basic website template and present our company’s information.”

To complete assignments, I get to know a company’s products; I attend a conference and interview key participants; I study a company’s existing materials and interview the CEO or marketing director to fill in the gaps.

But for other types of writing — blogging, freelance magazine articles, and fiction — the writer starts from scratch. This requires a much higher grade of fuel.

Sure, there are books and articles full of suggestions for sure-fire story ideas, and there’s always past experience. But I find there’s nothing better than a good, strong jolt of the unknown to power fresh thinking. Last year at a technology conference I met a man whose work had very little to do with technology. What was he doing there? He told us he kept himself inspired by regularly attending conferences — in other fields.

So, for those of you who heard that I recently received my state private investigator certification, you can stop wondering if I’m in the car behind you practicing my surveillance skills. It’s all about exposure new ideas. And the only concealed weapon I’m carrying is my iPhone.

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