In his book “Zen and the Art of Writing” Ray Bradbury wrote that at one time in his career he began to make a list of titles. They were simply nouns done without thinking, trusting his subconscious. For example he used this list: The Lake. The Night. The Crickets. The Ravine. The Attic. The Basement. The Trapdoor. The Baby. The Crowd. The Night Train. The Fog. The Horn. The Scythe. The Carnival. The Carousel. The Dwarf. The Mirror Maze. The Skeleton.
He did this to discover who he was as a writer. He learned about himself from these lists because they came out of his subconscious, reminding himself of things from his childhood. And some of them were scary.
What he would do was to take one of the titles and begin to write a long prose poem based on the chosen title. He said about the second page, the poem changed into a story as a character would inject himself into the poem-story and a story grew out of the poem. In the last title listed above-The Skeleton-he remembered as a child drawing skeletons and showing them to his female cousins to scare them. He then goes on to say how he came to write a short story in a few hours.
The point is that his unconscious writing of lists would reveal hidden memories within them and his stories flowed out of the exercise. And many times he did not need to begin with a prose poem.
Just as you can’t be being who you are, you can’t help writing what you write. Unless you are Elmore Leonard and can write in every genre with equanimity, but few of us are that adept. Lets me use The Baby as an example. Some may write a story about a baby dying in infancy and how the family copes with the tragedy. Can the family stay together? Some may write a suspense story about a kidnapping of a baby. Others might write a comic novel wherein the baby is narrating about how he sees the new world around him. For me, being an old-time baseball fan, I see a story about a bonus baby player who does not live up to expectations, his career spiraling downward, rejected by the game, by friends, and what the player does to redeem himself.
Even if you know what type of writer you are, it is a good exercise to find story ideas. And after you make a list-done without thinking-and examine what each word mean to you-you may open doors into yourself, doors that open to something unexpected about yourself. I hope it doesn’t scare you. If it does, then write horror stories.