Coming up with ideas for articles while on the road
As I was walking along a dark alley at 4am, shuffling, stumbling and swaying along the uneven ground, I couldn’t help but feel something was horribly wrong. Squinting into the distance I saw something in the middle of the path, a pale, ghostly figure. As I drew closer, I had a gut-wrenching feeling as my fears were confirmed, for it was not a ghost but something worse, something a lot worse. Sitting in the middle of the path was a man. A naked man. A naked man and covered from head to toe in blood…
Have I got your attention? Good. That was the point. I would like to say I just made that up, but that’s another story for another time. Right now I want to talk about that first sentence, why it’s the most important sentence you will write, and how to come up with ideas for articles while on the road.
One of the questions I always get asked is “how do you come up with ideas for articles?” and my answer is always the same – it’s that flash of inspiration.
Writing is a little like hosting a party (bear with me on this one) – when people first arrive you really want to make an amazing first impression, throughout the night you want to make sure that everyone is having the time of their life, and when it’s time to leave you want everybody to feel warm and fuzzy inside like they’ve really lived, like they’ve really experienced something special.
For this to happen, you’ve got to plan and prepare all those little details to make sure your party is a roaring success – you want there to be lots of food and drink, games, music and you’ve even got to think about what you’re going to say to people. For it to be that Baz Luhrmann-esque party, the one that everyone’s going to remember for the rest of the year, you’ve really got to put in the time and effort, no stone can be left unturned. And that’s the same for writing.
When it comes to writing, the most important sentence is that first one. If you don’t capture your reader in that first sentence, then you won’t in the second, because trust me, they won’t get that far.
Former Guardian journalist Tim Radford once said:
When you sit down to write, there is only one important person in your life. This is someone you will never meet, called a reader.
But how do you come up with a party-stopping first sentence? How do you capture the reader as soon as they set eyes on the article? I call it that flash of inspiration.
It’s when your subconscious overspills into your conscious, and all of a sudden something so strange and so random flashes through your mind it makes you think “where the hell did that come from!?”
As soon as you get that flash of inspiration, write it down. If you’re a keen travel writer or travel blogger, you should always have a notepad close to hand; use it. Write it down but don’t think about it too much.
When I’m on the road, the times that I get my flashes of inspiration are on trains, planes and buses. I find a window seat, look at the surrounding scenery passing me by, find some music that matches my mood, and I think. I think about where I’m about to go, or what I’ve just experienced. To be honest with you, I let my mind wander and take its own course; eventually my subconscious sparks to life and fires a flash. After a few hours I have a number of ideas written down, and I build upon those into articles.
When you’re about to write an article, either for print or online, pick up your notebook and look through it. As soon as you read over those flashes of inspiration, you should immediately be taken back to the time and place where you originally thought of them. Not only that, but you should be able to pick up the exact same train of thought and start taking it further.
Even though you’ve now got an idea for an article, you need to build upon it. You need to write it down, read it, reread it, rewrite it, and flesh it out. I can’t stress this enough, but if you don’t get that first sentence right when you’re telling a story, then you’re already fighting a losing battle.
So, the next time you’re on the road and something flashes across your mind, don’t ignore it, but embrace it. For all you know, it could be the beginnings of a story of a lifetime.