On Idea Gathering. Despite popular advice, I never, never, never sit down at my computer without having SOME idea what I'm going to write about. I find it frustrating and paralyzing to stare at the screen blankly. Here's what I do so I'm not blank when I sit down:
1) Take a moodling walk every day. A moodling walk is a nice long rambling walk for forty minutes to an hour, just letting my thoughts roam here and there. I may brainstorm a story plot, or something specific, or I may just let thoughts wander in and out. Often I come up with a writing idea!
2) Journal. Sloppy, scribbled pages each morning about those things that puzzle me, confuse me, make me angry, or delight me.
3) Read the paper. Each night I set aside articles that catch my attention for one reason or another. I clip the following day, file if appropriate, or put in a big file I call my Compost File—good fertilizer for future stories.
4) Make your subconscious work for you. Each night before I go to bed, I tell myself something I want to ponder as I sleep: It may be a story I'm stuck on, a character I want to know better, or an article I'm having trouble organizing. The next day I take a few minutes to jot down any new insights. Almost always there are some.
5) Eavesdrop. When in line, or waiting for a movie to start, listen to the people talking around you. Often you'll get ideas (or characters!) for future stories or articles.