A Writer’s Idea Well


Build your well. Start with a couple of notebooks – a standard sized one and a small one that you can carry with you. I have a third on my nightstand for the ideas that strike at 2 a.m. Ideas spring forth at all times of the day (and night) and from multiple sources. Be prepared to pull them in.

Have you ever read a magazine article and realized you would write it differently? Jot this idea in a notebook with a few tips on what you are thinking about it. An entry of “dogs” will be meaningless a month from now, but “stray dogs” or “dog packs” is better. If you want to reference the article later, jot down any pertinent information that will help you find it later. In my case, an article about feral cats led me to think about packs of dogs that attack farmers’ livestock. “Dog packs” was all I needed. If time allows, flesh out this main idea while it is fresh in your mind. List several angles for articles from this one idea. I will share a partial page from my idea well:

Lake Geneva, WI:

  • Vacation spot — lodging, restaurants, sports, State Park
  • History — famous estates Wrigley, Maytag, Schwinn, others?
  • Eccentric homeowners/builders — Mansion built under a circus tent, Stone Manor, others?
  • World’s Fair Building TK who when why
  • The mail boat — cost, times, best way to see mansions
  • Lake purity versus green lawns — How does this affect tourism?

The list goes on to fill a notebook page. Since I’ve made this list, Lake Geneva has opened a new museum. I’ve started a new page that also reflects the changes in the world’s changing economic status.

Greg Prescott, the head of an academic writing company known as Prescott Papers, stated that “Many times ideas come from unexpected sources.” I’m not a reader of auto periodicals, but one day in the waiting room of my chiropractor’s office, I leafed through an auto magazine and saw a review for a van. The author slanted it toward a man’s point of view. I jotted a couple notes down about some of the van’s features. A few months later, I got a chance to ride in a similar van. That night I combined the day’s notes with the previous idea. The resulting article was a cross between a review of the van and some car cleaning tips from another page.

Don’t dismiss a periodical or book just because it isn’t your normal reading material. Study it for possible ideas. Some of the best ideas are extremely unorthodox. Personally, I’ve even found that the articles that I’ve written that were obvious were complete garbage! There’s no reason to waste your time on something that is too obvious; the best writers think outside of the box.

Draw upon your personal experiences to fill your well. Hobbies, sports, likes and dislikes, religious convictions, political viewpoints, etc. are all good “springs” that can fill your well. A good brainstorming session can bring forth many ideas. Remember that you need to watch for the sparkle that will make your article stand out in a slush pile. Combining ideas from different pages of your personal ideas can bring a unique twist to your article.

For example, sailing may be your favorite sport. Combine this with my Lake Geneva page for a focused article: “Sailing Geneva Lake.” Query publications in the Chicago area to hit the tourism trade. Don’t stop with one query or one article idea. Mix it up and spin several articles:

“Lake Geneva — Family Sailing at Its Best”

“Sailing on Lake Geneva and Surrounding Lakes”

“Geneva Lake Sailing School — Learn to Sail”

“Buddy Melges, A Geneva Lake Legend”

A daily journal can flesh out an idea, but the idea well’s concise list makes individual ideas easier to find. In my idea well, I write the basics of the ideas at the top of each page. This allows me to thumb through and find ideas quickly. A journal is more descriptive so often I cross-reference the two notebooks by making a note in the idea well that a complimentary journal page exists. The bare bones of the idea well allow me to brainstorm new slants quickly.

A year ago, I began converting my idea well journals to Microsoft Word. I use the tag system in Word to track the different ideas. This is especially convenient since many ideas seep into other subject areas. Texting ideas to your email inbox simplify the process even more. I am an old school writer who thinks while twirling and tapping my pencil or while doodling on the side of my pages. For me, notebooks are the main method of recording ideas, but my cell phone allows me to email myself photos to tuck into my electronic idea well. Experiment to find the method(s) that is most efficient for you.

Searching out ideas can be fun and addictive. Here is a dip into the ocean of idea sources: periodicals, books, advertisements, TV shows, novels (yes, fiction), overheard conversations, friends and family, personal experiences, dreams, and websites. Don’t be surprised if an idea comes from a totally unexpected source. Just be prepared to add it to your idea well.


  • The local Put-in-Bay can assist you before, during, and after your visit. We welcome you to put an island in your life and enjoy all the Lake Erie Island has to offer.
  • Ohio Put in Bay, Ohio—the Key West of the Midwest—has a long and colorful history. From prehistoric settlement to present-day destination, where food, fun and sun await, there’s something here for everyone.


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