How To Create An Endless Stream Of Ideas
Ideas are the lifeblood of your blog and the currency of creators. Without new ideas, blogs can’t grow. But the hardest thing about being creative isn’t just needing new ideas, it’s knowing which ones are worthwhile.
When I first started writing I’d get depressed after finishing an article. The joy of hitting publish would only last a moment before I’d feel the dread of, “What if that’s the last idea I ever have?”
But what I’ve found, and others have documented, is that we all have an “idea muscle.” The more you use it the stronger it grows and, just like any other muscle, atrophies when you don’t.
When you open-source your life and see the world through the lens of “potential ideas,” inspiration begins to pile up faster than you can use it.
I keep an ongoing list of potential ideas in my notes app on my iPhone. It’s long and messy and 90% of the ideas are useless. Yet, the act of writing them down and going through the process keeps my idea muscle engaged.
Of course, just like authenticity, we can’t sit around waiting for ideas to arrive. Thoreau wrote, “How selfish it is to sit down and write before ones stood up to live.”
We must go out into the world and expose ourselves and pay attention to our curiosity to fuel the energy our idea muscles need.
Ideas are everywhere, but here are some fool-proof ways to make sure that you always have more coming in than going out.
Besides sitting down to write, reading is the most important thing a writer can do to improve their craft. Books hold a wealth of potential ideas and one subtle theme or sentence can spark inside you an unrelated idea that opens the floodgates of possibility.
I use a two note-card system while reading books. On one note card, I write down ideas from the book I like, pieces of beautiful language, and anything else I may want to come back to later. On the second notecard, I write down a list of ideas the book sparked that I might want to write about or explore.
When I finish the book I go back over my notes and revisit both notecards and see if what kind of inspiration might be waiting.
“Wit is the sudden marriage of ideas which before their union were not perceived to have any relation.” -Mark Twain
Remember how we talked about putting new fingerprints on old ideas? Idea sex is the next step in digging up originality. Idea sex is the marriage of two seemingly different ideas coming together to make something new.
Little girls used to be the only people who played with dolls. Little boys like action, guns, and adventure. One day a man named Stan Weston noticed this and invented the GI Joe. He didn’t innovate a brand new concept, he simply brought two existing concepts together and created something that changed how kids around the world played.
Stan Weston said this about his success:
“Truly groundbreaking ideas are rare, but you don’t necessarily need one to make a career out of creativity. My definition of creativity is the logical combination of two or more existing elements that result in a new concept. The best way to make a living with your imagination is to develop innovative applications, not imagine completely new concepts.”
We love to talk about the intangible, spiritual muse of creativity (and I am a believer in that half of it), however, we can’t forget the other side of it which Stan points out:
Creativity = Logical combinations of existing elements.
So now you have permission: Go into the world and have unprotected idea sex every day and make idea babies.
Reading and exercising the idea muscle makes coming up with ideas possible, but it’s in my journal where inklings of ideas in my subconscious come to the surface.
Almost every morning I open a file on my computer called “500 Words A Day.” For the most part, it’s a free write. Sometimes I write about a memory or a problem or what I did the day before. (Looking back at past entries, much of it is just me complaining.)
The beauty is I can write about anything and I know no one will ever see it. The only rule is to write at least 500 words. This makes it easy when I have something to say and just enough of a stretch to warm up my brain when I don’t.
It’s during these free writes that dim, inklings of ideas shine through and spark my interest. I’ll watch a random sentence appear and think, “There’s something that might be worth writing about.”
When this happens I write in parentheses next to the sentence, or paragraph, “Blog post?” Then, when I am ready to write something new, I open the file and perform a search of “Blog Post?” and quickly find the sections where the ideas are.
Do Something Else
“In dreams, the truth is learned that all good works are done in the absence of a caress.” -Leonard Cohen
Whenever you’re trying to come up with an idea, solve a problem, or figure something out, think long and hard. Once you’re stuck, walk away. When we take our attention away from something our subconscious keeps working.
When I’m stuck in my writing I move to another creative outlet. I play guitar, cook a nice dinner, or take a walk and force myself to think about other things.
Many writers swear by running and swimming for getting past creative blocks. Occupy the body, revive the mind.
Exercise The Idea Muscle
James Altucher gives the advice of writing down 10 ideas a day.
It could be 10 ideas for you or 10 ideas for someone else. You could write down “10 ideas for blog posts other people should write.”
Or, “10 Ideas For Posts I’d Love To Write But Could Never Publish” (that’s pretty good, I thought of 3 before I finished typing that sentence).
Write down: “10 Wicked Comebacks I Should Have Said But Couldn’t Think Of At The Time.”
Look, it doesn’t matter. It’s just exercise. If you write down thousands and thousands of ideas a year, a few are bound to be beautiful.
Let It Simmer
One way to separate the killer from the filler is to let ideas sit for few days. If you like an idea but aren’t completely sold, write it down, fold it up, and don’t look at it for a week. After that, if you still feel the spark then that’s one indication it’s worth pursuing.
But be warned:
Letting good ideas sit for too long can be dangerous.
You need to harness that initial inspiration and curiosity to fuel your work. Your audience needs to feel it in the work as well. Once you know you’re all in with an idea, get after it.
Put It On Paper
It’s hard to tell a great idea from a dud until you can pick it up and hold it in your hand. If you have an idea for a blog post I recommend getting a rough draft out of your system as soon as possible. See if you actually have as much to say on the subject as you think you do.
Once you hold an idea in your hand, you can decide if you want to hang it on the wall or throw it in the trash.
Ready to get those thoughts out of your head and onto the page? Take my free 7-day writing course and, “Just get it written…”