Scratching around in the attic (Mistake #86)

“I can’t think of any ideas!” 

“What am I going to write about?” 

“I’ve been racking my brains all day!” 

Ideas germinate and develop in brains, so you’re not looking in the wrong place when you’re scratching around in your attic trying to find them. But if the search is proving fruitless and you’re getting frustrated with the fruitlessness, then it’s time to climb through the hatch and down the step ladder and go looking elsewhere. 

Where is that elsewhere? Other people’s heads of course. And a top bet is older other people, such as aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents. The ‘What was it like when you were young?’ question needs to be tailored to your specific interests and the experiences of the family members whose noggins you are knocking on, but it is a great springboard from which you can delve into personal histories and find a few treasures and heirlooms. 

Many of you will remember the magnificent Woman’s Weekly centenary celebration magazine, which I covered in a previous Mistake. In it, I talked about the terrific ideas that you could generate from the old articles in it – never mind the pure entertainment value. 

In a sense, older people in your life are the interactive versions of those magazines. Their experience may not go back 100 years, but the fact that you can ‘interview’ them – for wont of a much less formal word – grants you a level of access to a former world which no magazine article, or indeed history book, can offer you. 

You know how people sometimes forget what they’ve got in their (literal) attics? Well, we all sometimes forget what we’ve got in our metaphorical attics too. It’s your job to tease it all out of your interviewees, to trigger memories, and you can do this by showing genuine interest and using gently probing questions. Writers have to be good interviewers too, even when their subject is well known to them. Patience, reframing questions, an understanding ear … all can help. 

Do all this, and you’ll come away with hundreds of ideas – and I’ll bet you’ll have made some relatives very happy too. Do it for a period of time, and by the time you return to your own attic, you may be lucky enough to find that it has been colonised by a new clutch of ideas that you didn’t even feel arriving and nesting and breeding. 

Remember: there are several billion heads on the planet, where ideas live. Never restrict yourself to just one.

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