There is this myth in the Creative community (probably because people like me use words like “Muse” and “Calling”) that ideas simply strike out of the sky, and the Creative must merely act on them, waiting to act until this mystical lady comes to call.
That’s a poisonous way to think because a) You put your very livelihood in the hands of someone/thing else and b) it becomes way too easy to play the victim card (“I just haven’t been inspired!”)
It’s tempting to say “Here are ways to never run out of ideas,” but I won’t. The Internet has enough hyperbole already.
I will say “here are some ways I keep coming up with ideas.” These have worked for me and so far, I’m still chugging.
(If ever they stop coming, I promise I’ll write about that too.)
1. Study art religiously
Is it time for a comeback for a certain style of design? Does a sentence a novel you read inspire a train of thought? (I wrote nearly 1,200 words from one sentence in Paper Towns.) If you could change your favorite piece of art in one way, what would that way be? Lots of ideas are simply other ideas plus or minus one element.
2. Walk. A lot.
Thoreau wrote an entire thesis on this which I’m not going to quote from because it’s free and you can find it online anywhere to read yourself.
Actually I just looked it up. That’s how much I love you. Here it is.
The body (including the brain) needs blood flow to exist. Walking increases the blood flow within the body, giving your brain a boost. I probably explained that wrong but I’m not really concerned about that because I’m not a scientist and neither are you. How ’bout we just leave it at “WALKING IS MAGIC.”Walking is Magic Click To Tweet
3. Study other people.
“People watching” is somewhere on my list of 101 Ways to Break Out of a Creative Rut, and I’m still sticking to it. Airports are one of my favorite places to do this. There are plenty of people to stare at and make up lives for. Try to figure out why they walk, talk, and act like they do. Paint their pain. Compare them to your own lives. Other humans, whether by themselves or by their work, are an incredible way to inspire new work.
4. Go outside.
I’ll often walk around the 20 square ft. park outside my office barefoot. It sounds pretty hippie-ish, but there seems to be something to the whole fresh air thing.
Besides, nature has been surviving for quite some time now, and it doesn’t even have the massive intelligence we do. It’s probably doing something right. Besides, there’s a whole school of thought pointing out how we draw power from nature. Check out the theory behind it.
5. Be around kids.
The obvious caveat here is DO NOT WALK UP TO KIDS RANDOMLY AND TALK TO THEM. You will get arrested. Or at least some weird looks from parents. But if you have a son or nephew or work at a children’s camp, spend as much time around them as possible. Kids are idea geniuses because there are no limitations to their imaginations.
6. Look to your past.
This isn’t about meticulously journaling. Remember, I’m not crazy about that. But one of my most popular stories on Medium came from a random story I remembered from my childhood. A lot of times we’re trying to look forward, trying to predict what the most popular thing to write about would be.
But Artists need to reflect. Moreover, our own experiences are the one thing nobody else has.
7. Mind map.
I almost left this one out because I honestly don’t use it that often. But I’ve done it at work a couple times and the results are straight magic. Here’s a guide to get you started.
8. Get outta town.
The mind, by design, ignores as many things as possible. The more it automates, the more it can devote itself to solving problems (like why we would want to watch a scary movie right before bed).
But this automation backfires whenever our gorgeous universe, full of life and beauty and ideas, turns into white noise. Getting into a new area serves the double benefit of you having new things to explore AND it highlights what you love about your dwelling when you get back.
I know, I know, you can’t always control whether or not you dream. But you can control whether or not you take naps. Salvador Dali used to take naps, wake himself up, and then draw whatever he saw.
Worked out okay for him.
10. Go wide, then go deep.
In my microjournaling, I come up with several different ideas on one topic. I go wide to try and circle all the possibilities. Then the next morning I pick just ONE item from the previous day’s list, and go deep – I list 10 other things that have to do with that thing. That’s actually where the idea for this article came from. 🙂
11. Recycle someone else’s ideas.
Ideas aren’t evaluated for their novelty. They’re judged based on whether or not they work. Consider restaurant delivery services. Seamless was founded way back in 1999. Five years later, GrubHub came along. Eight years after that, the idea worked again, when Caviar launched in 2012. Then came Doordash in 2013. UberEats in 2014. You get the picture.
Grab an existing idea, add what is your own, and enjoy the fruit (or Caviar) of your labor.
Running out of ideas is one of the biggest underlying fears of the Creative lifestyle.
But these practices can help you stay away from that.