“The best time for planning a book is while you're doing the dishes.” —Agatha Christie
Still stuck even after pouring over all those books and journals? Don’t worry. There are plenty of other ways to stimulate your brain.
In general, though, remember that good ideas may arise anytime and anywhere. You might be struck by a brilliant insight as you’re running on the treadmill or even while dreaming. Always be prepared to record new ideas. Carry a small notepad with you or use your cell phone to record a voice memo. You might even try writing the idea on a napkin and taking a picture of it. The important thing is to get it down quickly because you’re all too likely to forget all about it by the time you’re ready to write.
Another good way to generate ideas is to read and listen actively. Your texts and professors will discuss relevant issues in the field, and they might make comparisons to related ideas and other thinkers. A professor might say, “There is still work to be done in this area,” or “there is great controversy over this issue.” Be alert to these sources for good ideas. The biggest mistake a novice writer can make is to rely solely on “inspiration.” As a scholar, you are never alone—don’t be afraid to listen and respond to the work of others instead of always trying to be original or profound.
Even chatting with your classmates might help you think of a good topic. You can also check with your college or university’s writing center. Many of them have tutors who can help you find and hone a great topic for your paper.
Let’s look now at three other techniques for getting those brain juices flowing: brainstorming, clustering, and freewriting.