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How to come up with ideas

Idea generation

How to come up with ideas

I know the feeling. I’ve been there. Stuck in front of a computer, wishing I was anywhere but in front of a screen, trying to think up an idea. It’s frustrating and annoying and the more frustrated and annoyed you get the less you’re able to think.

By the way, if you’re a blogger, scroll down to the bottom of this post: I’ve got a special message just for you.

The intersection between the creative process and idea generation 

This week, in response to bunch of people asking me about it in a Facebook group, I‘ve been thinking about and researching idea generation and what it actually means. What’s the science behind it, if you like. The intersection between the creative process and ideas is something I’ve been interested in for a long time, ever since I wrote a module on it for a university I worked at. But I must admit I was more interested in the creative side of that equation than the ideas side. And this week I’ve been pondering why that was.

Getting to the crux of the matter

Because I also don’t know how that frustration and annoyances feels when it comes to writing creatively, when I’m in what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls ‘flow state.’ It’s when I’m racking my brains deliberately trying to think something up – trying to generate ideas – that the frustration kicks in.

And there’s the (sort of ironic) crux of the matter: writing creatively bypasses the need to rack my brains, if only I trusted the process all the time. (I got so much better at trusting the process when I became a published writer.)

It’s not a lucky break or piece of good fortune when I ‘just’ start writing and suddenly come up with a good idea, there’s something in what I’m doing when I ‘just’ start writing that generates those ideas

Let’s go back to the beginning 

Two things I said in the introduction to this post are worth returning to:

1. I said that part of the frustration with trying to generate ideas comes from wishing you were anywhere but in front of a screen, trying to think up an idea. Listen to yourself when this happens. You’re thinking this because – right now – you do need to be somewhere else for the ideas to germinate. It is of course possible to have ideas in front of a screen, but right now you need to get up and walk, garden, sing, get out in nature, sit by the ocean or another water source, cook, talk or do anything that isn’t trying to generate ideas in front of a screen.

2. I also said that the more frustrated and annoyed you get the less you’re able to think. It follows then that it’s better to be less frustrated and annoyed to come up with ideas. How do you avoid getting frustrated and annoyed and how do you calm yourself down  in other parts of your life? Do that.

Our brains are amazing. Give them the space they need to work. If you’re  frustrated and annoyed you’re going to go into stress mode, releasing cortisol, sending your body into fight, flight or freeze, and that isn’t conducive to coming up with ideas.

Harnessing the power of creative practice 

I’m not talking about learning content creation here – because you could Google that and discover many content creation gurus out there who will help you with ICAs and SEO and funnels. I’m talking about harnessing what writers and successful creative practitioners already know about the creative process in order to generate ideas.

I’ve become a mum since I wrote that university module on creative process, and moved house, and left my job. It’s easy to forget exactly what my thinking was at the time. But two things that I’ve remembered this week from that time are:

  1. You can come up with a LOT of ideas deliberately in order to reject some of them and get to what you really want to write about. But you’ve got to be willing for some of the ideas to be ‘wrong’.
  2. It’s possible to come up with those ideas without considering their usability and then decide whether they work later.

More soon. Until then, happy writing.

Louise xx

P.S. If you’re a blogger and you’re interested in finding out more about idea generation, go here.

P.P.S. I’ve written a series of posts on creative tools that can help you come up with ideas. Here’s the first one.

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