Just like any other writer, I've often found myself looking for topics to write about when I hit writer's block or get lucky enough to get fifteen minutes to occupy and no access to my current work in progress. I always thought I had too many ideas and not enough time, and while that's true (normally), I still sometimes find myself looking for a prompt to get going. Luckily, there are plenty of them around me, and I rarely waste even five minutes getting something going. So where do I find my inspiration?
The news. I'm amazed at some of the stuff that shows up in reality. Even if the news story itself isn't overly thrilling, just one line might spark my imagination and get a short story, poem, or essay started. Sometimes it isn't even the news that does it – sometimes I just read the headline wrong when I first glance at it and then come up with a whole new story based on my mistake.
Contest rules can help, too. If I really can't figure out what I want to write about, I can find a contest (there are some great sites that list them, such as Ralan.com, Duotrope.com, and WinningWriters.com) and see what they're looking for. Some are very specifically themed, and those themes can work magic when nothing else can.
Watching people almost always yields a goldmine. Just gassing up my car has sparked ideas. Seeing a guy who looks like Fabio driving a Dodge Neon that he barely fits in makes me wonder why he's driving it and what the rest of his life is like.
Watching the places I drive by work the same as watching people. A really run-down restaurant with a hospital next door might make me wonder how many doctors ever ate there and got food poisoning, and what would happen if all of the doctors got it?
Signs – it doesn't matter what kind – are also great story starters. See a sign for employment by the side of the road and think about who put it there. Do you really believe that a millionaire who needs help spending his money wants to hire the first chump who calls the number on a sign by the side of the side of the road? But what if it's true? And what if it's not? Signs on businesses, too – going out of business, sales, or just humorous slogans – can all add to ideas. Maybe there's a misspelling that annoys you every time. Did one person do it on purpose just to annoy a co-worker? What problems are they having?
Conversations, especially with other writers, can start new ideas percolating. Whether you're actually trying to come up with ideas, or just having a casual chat, something might remind you of something else, and who knows where that will go? If you are actually trying to come up with ideas, one nice thing is that the same idea in two different people's heads will almost never turn out the same.
Anywhere, anytime, and anything can work as a creative push if you're looking, listening, and willing to work. Don't be surprised if you find yourself overwhelmed with ideas – just write them down and get back to them later. Who knows – you may even get multiple stories out of one idea!