This is the first in a series of posts on Greasing Your Creative Wheels. Whether you’re a blogger, a writer or another type of artist, there are times when the creative machine gets jammed, the cogs get all gunked up and you need a Creative Tune-Up. This series aims to get your engine going again using some of the time tested techniques that we use. Up first – filling your idea tank.
Surely, you get writer’s block?
Nope. Never. In fact, I’m a writer with more ideas than I have time to execute them. Between numerous comic strips, books, articles and blog posts, I have no shortage of ideas. Granted, they’re not all GREAT, but each is a seed capable of growth as long as there are the right nutrients in the soil.
Sitting and staring at a blank screen or page but being unable to come up with anything is a terrifying feeling. I have good news for you. Whether you are painting a picture or writing great copy there are ways to make sure it won’t happen to you again.
I kind of lied above when I said never. I wasn’t always this chock full of ideas.
During my years as a newspaper reporter, I was responsible for submitting a certain number of stories per issue. Prioritizing and scheduling were key to ensuring I met my deadlines. I was great at meeting deadlines. However, sometimes a story would simply fall apart. There are a number of reasons this can happen, too many to mention here, but one night of panic that I might miss a deadline was all the inspiration I needed to make sure I always have something waiting in the wings.
So I created my idea tank
This is my system. Feel free to modify, improve and claim it as your own. Call it whatever you want. Your Box O’ Ideas, your Idea Well, Hell, call it Bob. The name isn’t important so long as you develop some sort of system.
Conquer writer’s block
The FIRST thing you need to do if you’re stuck for inspiration is GET UP! Change your scenery. If you’ve been sitting at a desk for hours, get out and go for a walk, jog or run! Just get up and get moving!
I know it seems counterproductive, especially if you’re pressed for time, to leave your writing area. Trust me. Sitting in one place for too long allows both your body and spirit to fall into lethargy. Walking is not only good for its obvious health benefits, it also gives your brain a jump start, freeing you to think beyond the limitations of your house or office. Suddenly, you’re out in the world, wide open spaces filled with possibilities. I always think of new ideas while out on a walk. By the time I’m halfway through, I’m in a rush to get back and record my ideas.
I carry a reporter’s notebook (or some variation of) with me wherever I go. (Although, I don’t take notes while on my walks) This is a habit I developed long before I became a reporter. You never know when an idea will strike. Odds are, the less appropriate the place for writing, the more likely you’ll think of some killer new idea. Funny how the mind works. Never be caught off guard. On the road, in line or in bed, have a pen and paper of some sort to jot down your ideas. Bonus – If you’re like me and hate waiting in lines or traffic or doctor’s offices, a notebook makes for a great way to make use of your waiting time! I try to keep my ideas on separate pages for the next step.
Observe your surroundings
It’s funny how often we ignore those things we take for granted.
When you pass the same street day after day, you probably fail to notice all the little things that make it unique. Start noticing. Better yet, start writing down some of these observations, as they are some of the ingredients which will inform your creative work and allow people to lose themselves inside your words and worlds.
People watching is a favorite activity for many writers, myself included. Next time you’re out, try to imagine the lives, or the back stories if you will, of the people around you. People provide wonderful inspiration. Crowded places such as malls and public transportation often have an eclectic mix of denizens. Surely one person will glow with potential.
Perhaps the blue collar guy in the dirty shirt with the calloused hands sitting quietly in the back of the bus, his head down, his eyes tired, might have a compelling story. Perhaps there’s something special in that paper sack he is carrying. Something wonderful, or maybe something horrible, which will change the world of those around him. The only limits are your imagination. Use real life to jumpstart your creative side.
Better yet, talk to people
Your imagination will only get you so far. If you really want to write about other people, try getting to know them. Strike up conversations with people you might not otherwise talk to (assuming its reasonably safe to do so and you’re not putting yourself at risk). If you’re not especially social, try listening to others. Listening to the way other people talk can lend voice to your own creations. Authentic dialogue always sounds better than the clichéd banter that permeates bad television and movies.
Invite the creator inside you to your next conversation. Pretty soon you will have plenty of inspiration to tap into.
Filling your idea tank
As you record your ideas, you’ll want a place to store them. I use a giant index card box with dividers. You can use whatever works for you: a computer program, a shoe box, a series of notebooks, whatever you like. Each idea falls into a category and gets filed away. Note: you don’t have to store JUST your ideas in this bank. You can also store other people’s work which inspires you in some manner. Perhaps you saw a photo in a magazine of some place which triggered an idea in your head. Cut it out, write down some notes and attach it to the pic and file it away.
Some sample categories:
- story ideas – long
- story ideas – short
- books by name
- blog article ideas
- magazine article ideas
- column ideas
- print or online clips which inspire
- memorable quotes
- site design
- color schemes
- other art
The important thing is to have some easy way to categorize them and call them up at a later date. Because when it comes to writing, ideas are your friends. Treat them well, invest time in developing them and they will reward you greatly in return.
Next time: we’ll discuss your digital idea tank, how to use an RSS feed for inspiration and other tools to keep your creative engine chugging.
The Collective Inkwell Community Question: We’re interested in some of the tricks and tools you use to fill your idea tank. How do you get your inspiration? What tips would you like to pass along? We want to hear from you! Comment below and join the discussion.