It’s been awhile since I posted on creativity. But it’s one of those things that I think about all the time. I’m fascinated by how creative people relate to their work, how they structure their days, and how they access their creative “space.”
Because I offer workshops on creativity and writing, I’ve been trying to pay more attention to how and when I come up with ideas, whether for blog posts, short stories, or reported pieces. Like many people, a lot of my best ideas emerge when I’m doing something *other than* sitting at the computer typing.
So today, I’m sharing some techniques for coming up with ideas, with the hope that these may prove useful to others. While I focus on writing ideas, I’m sure these strategies are pertinent to other fields:
a. Exercise. When I’m confused about an idea, not sure how to spin it or just wondering if there’s even a “there there,” it’s amazing how often exercise solves that problem. In the old days, I’d go for a run. Now (at least once quarantine lifts!), I go for a swim. I may not set off on my workout intending to think about a certain issue. But if there’s something kicking around the back of my mind, I often find that the combination of forward motion, exertion and fresh air allow everything to fall in place. A friend of mine who’s a novelist does the same thing with bike rides. He writes in the morning and takes long bike rides in the afternoon. By the next morning, he tells me, he’s got loads of fresh material. The trick is to rush inside right after the workout and jot down your ideas.
b. Take a Thinking Shower. During my first few years in graduate school, we were required to take a series of exams in order to qualify in our chosen field of study. These were called “field exams” and in my department, at least, they consisted of a series of essays which you researched and wrote over the course of a weekend. Needless to say, none of us got much sleep during those weekends. But I did have one friend who always seemed to be in the shower when I’d phone up to see how she was getting on. “The shower?” I’d ask, wondering who could possibly bathe regularly when they had so little time to complete an exam. “It’s a thinking shower,” she’d explain. She found that burst of hot water on her face enabled her to outline her essays. So I tried it. So should you. Scientists even have a name for the link between water and creativity: blue mind.
c. Figure out what’s distinctive about your perspective. This is a technique I’ve used quite a bit since moving overseas. I find that so much of what I think about various issues – whether it’s health care reform, therapy, or getting a driver’s license – has changed dramatically simply by virtue of living somewhere else. But you don’t need to change place to draw on this different viewpoint. Just this morning I was thinking about the current turmoil engulfing the United States over race relations. I realised that I was thinking about the emerging divides in and around the Republican party over using the military to quell protests through what I know as a political scientist, rather than as a citizen. And having that different perspective was informative and useful.
d. Reflect on the most striking thing someone has said to you in the last week. When I’m trying to come up with ideas for blog posts, I sometimes think about the most unusual thing someone’s said to me in the past week. Often, that person is one of my children. “Why is God so famous?” my daughter once asked me when she was six. A friend of mine recently observed that people have begun engaging in “opposite behaviour” during lockdown – i.e., those who normally hate cooking have taken to Instagram to share their culinary triumphs, while avowed introverts are flocking to Zoom for virtual drinks. A stranger confessed that he selects which films to watch based solely on the appeal of the poster. (Whaaaa???) Whenever this happens, I grab my pen and scribble these comments down.
5. Go outside for a walk. Here, the focus is less on exercise – though there is research supporting a link between walking and creativity – than it is about being an observant student of other people. Writer and long-time public radio host Garrison Keillor once wrote that “A long walk also brings you into contact with the world, which is basic journalism, which most writing is. It isn’t about you and your feelings, so much as about what people wear and how they talk. The superficial is never to be overlooked.” Simply put, when you go outside you notice things. I’ve been taking long walks around parts of my neighborhood I’ve never visited before. The other day, I discovered a street called “Harriet Tubman Way.” It happened to be one of the first days of the racial equality protests in America. I paused to stare at the sign for a moment. It resonated differently than it might have a month earlier. And that’s what it’s all about.
How do you generate new ideas? Share in the comments section.
Image: Idea Creativity Innovation via Pixabay