Imagination Is the Tastiest Ingredient in Your Writing Recipe

2 viewpoints to add to your chef’s cookbook

ISORepublic — CC0 License

There are two words that are the most important part of a writer’s idea recipe.

They’re words you probably used when you were 4 years old.

But first, what’s an idea recipe? It’s the combination of sources you use to generate topics to write about. An idea recipe might consist of

  • Books you’ve read
  • Responses you’ve read on Quora, Reddit
  • Favorite quotes
  • Keywords or phrases run through a search engine like Ubersuggest or Answer the Public
  • Past experiences in which you had a strong reaction to what was happening
  • Something interesting you saw on Twitter or Pinterest

If you want your idea cookbook to grow by hundreds of pages, though, all you have to do is sprinkle in two words — the words I alluded to at the start of this post.

“Let’s pretend.”

Where I got the inspiration for these exercises

I’m a member of several different Facebook writing groups, but my very favorite is Medium Writing Academy: Writers’ Mastermind, the brainchild of Sinem Günel and her partner Philip Hofmacher. The group really is a mastermind, where writers can ask for advice as well as get constructive feedback.

Lately, Sinem has been interviewing other top writers, picking their brains on how to achieve success. Some of her recent interviews have been with big names like Tom Kuegler (editor of Post-Grad Survival Guide and Finding Tom), Coach Tony (from the “Better ______” family of publications), and Brittany Jezouit (editor of Better Marketing).

I was very excited about her interview with Sean Kernan, who is known for widespread success without sticking to one niche. Not only did he explain his philosophy on that, but he gave powerful advice on how to tighten up your writing. I took out my journal notebook and took 3 pages of notes.

It turns out that I didn’t need to take those notes.

Four days later, Sean published an article in Better Marketing spelling out the same writing tips he listed in his interview with Sinem.

Everyone’s an expert in something

“So, Paul, what you’re saying,” you may be tempted to reply, “is to go on a podcast or video interview for an hour giving out writing tips, then make those tips into an article to publish.”

No. Not unless you’re a top writer. This is where imagination comes in.

Exercise 1: You’re scheduled to be interviewed on a podcast for one hour tomorrow, and you can talk about any subject you want. It can be silly or serious. Talk about whatever it is you know. What would you talk about?

You might even want to go so far as firing up an audio recorder app and interviewing yourself. Then you can play it back later and use it for ideation.

At the time you imagine yourself doing the podcast, though, forget you’re a writer. Speak on whatever topic you want for the sole purpose of educating, entertaining, and/or inspiring your audience.

I’ll give you an example. I’m a WWE fan. I could imagine talking about the difference between the current state of their two flagship shows. One show, Smackdown, is compelling television. The other show, Monday Night Raw, is a jumbled mess that’s borderline unwatchable at times.

After you’ve imagined and possibly recorded the self-interview, come back and think, what writing topics are in there? What would lend itself well to an article or story that would have mass appeal?

I’ll continue with my own example. I enjoy writing about writing, so I could pen a piece for fiction writers on how to create characters that draw people in, with examples from Smackdown. I could write about character interactions that bomb, using examples from Raw. (Bonus tip: If Smackdown airs in your area, the Roman Reigns character is a fabulous lesson in how to portray a villain.)

Imagining yourself on a podcast, speaking naturally, will help you draw out areas of expertise you didn’t know you had.

Now turn the process on its head!

That brings us to the second exercise — this time you’re not the interviewee. You’re the interviewer, the podcaster, the vlogger.

Who would be some of your ideal guests, and what would you ask them?

If you need help thinking who your invited guests would be, what questions would you ask if you interviewed

  • Your best friend
  • Your favorite teacher from when you were in school
  • A family member who’s no longer alive
  • The most successful person you’ve ever known
  • The happiest person you’ve ever known
  • The kindest person you’ve ever known
  • The most charismatic person you’ve ever known
  • The most graceful person you’ve ever known
  • The most creative person you’ve ever known
  • The most organized person you’ve ever known
  • The most productive person you’ve ever known
  • The most logical person you’ve ever known
  • Someone who inspires you
  • Someone who has overcome adversity
  • Someone who has embraced their differences
  • Someone who lives a lifestyle completely different than yours
  • A dating coach
  • A gratitude coach
  • A career coach (can be particular to your field or more general)
  • A calmness coach
  • A psychiatrist
  • A professor of whatever subject interests you
  • A 5-year-old
  • A celebrity, athlete, or author you follow closely
  • Your favorite fictional character
  • An alien from a civilization more enlightened than ours

That’s just a starter list. I’m sure you can come up with more. Imagine yourself interviewing your desired subjects. How would you get in their heads, to deliver maximum value for the people listening to your interview? You have to understand them before you can show the audience how to understand them.

As you think through that process, what writing topics come to mind?


When you add imagination to the mix, you magnify your ability to come up with new and inventive ideas.

Imagine yourself being interviewed. You’re the expert. Imagine what you’d say. Once you have that in mind, do a little brainstorming. What writing topics spring forth from the things you’d talk about?

Then imagine yourself being the interviewer. Who would you interview, and what would you ask them? What do you imagine their responses would be, and what writing topics reveal themselves in the questions and answers?

Of course, interviews are just one example of how to use your imagination to dislodge ideas buried deep in your mind. What other imaginative techniques can you come up with? I invite you to share them in the comments.

Let’s keep in touch! Feel free to sign up for my newsletter. Here’s a related article:

I write about writing, ideas, creativity, intuition, spirituality, life lessons. Ex-college teacher Twitter: @paulryburn

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store