Focusing Your Reading and Finding Ideas

Many experts recommend reading as a way to get ideas, but usually do not offer more specific suggestions, such as pinpointing and identifying areas that you can select from and write about. From my own experience, I know how frustrating this can be. I took endless notes and saved countless newspaper clippings, only to discard nearly all of them a few years later.

Little by little, I found a way which works for me. Here is what I have done:

1. I read the paper the way I usually do every day for about two or three weeks, and after reading it, returned to the pages in which there was one or more interesting articles. If the article was about something which I expected to write about fairly soon, I'd clip it. Otherwise, I would note the article titles and pages.

2. I'd also visit the library, examining new nonfiction and fiction books first, before browsing in the stacks. If I knew that I'd read a given book immediately, I'd borrow it. Otherwise, I'd note the title and/or subject. If I was at a bookstore, I would pay attention to books whose titles caught my attention and perhaps buy one or two of them for reference.

3. At the same time, I'd peruse the magazines and place those which interested me the most on a nearby table. If possible, I'd borrow the magazines.

After about three weeks, I'd consider the material I had reviewed in the paper and at the library. My object was to pinpoint one or more subjects that attracted and held my attention over a period of time. If the results indicated a wide variety of subjects, I'd hold on to my previous notes and begin the process again.

Doing this benefited me in another way. I began to notice aspects that were mentioned briefly, but warranted further consideration ... and jot down notes about them. Perhaps I had the beginnings of a trend! Later on, I'd mine them for article and book ideas later.

While this strategy takes a little time, it does pay off. First, it enables me to focus my reading and second, it indicates aspects that I may be able to turn into an article or book.

Dorothy Zjawin's writing credits include a book, Teaching Ideas for the Come-Alive Classroom (Parker Pub. Co./Prentice-Hall) and Instructor articles. You are invited to visit her website,, for more ideas and a free forum.

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