How To Never Run Out of Ideas, Stay Creative, and Become Prolific
Use the idea machine technique and make sure you both consume and create
I write a new blog post either every day or every other day.
I have too many ideas, not too few.
Whether you’re an artist, an entrepreneur, or just someone wanting to ascend in your career, your ideas will carry you. People talk about execution, but still, the ideas are the seeds.
The more you cultivate them, the more creative you can become. Yes, execute, but execution without creativity makes you a robot.
If you’re stuck about your next move, need fresh ideas, or want to be more creative in general, use some of my idea-generating strategies.
The Idea Machine Technique
This one I totally stole from James Altucher (which will lead to a point I’ll share soon).
It’s very simple.
Write down ten ideas every day. These ideas could be for yourself or someone else. James says he gets many business connections and clients by writing down ten ideas for said company or person and sending them over.
For years, I’ve written ten ideas per day. Often, they’re titles for blog posts, but sometimes I write things as silly as “ten ideas for planning a fun day with my daughter” or “ten ideas for keto recipes that I can tolerate.”
The point is to get in the habit of generating ideas constantly.
Most of your ideas will suck, but a few will be gold. You take the good ones, save them, implement them, then double down on what works.
This seems simple, but people have a hard time with this because they don’t like to suck.
They don’t want to write down ten shitty ideas in a row. But the ideas themselves aren’t the point, the act of articulating them is.
It sends a signal to your brain that says you’re creative, active, and productive. Success and confidence are always about feedback — the signals you send yourself about yourself.
Get in the practice of generating ideas so you’ll become an idea person.
Swiper, Please Swipe
I stole the idea technique from James Altucher.
I steal stuff from people all the time.
You’ve probably heard the concept of stealing like an artist. I stole that too.
The larger point? Most people try way too hard to be original. People who try to be original never get anything done. Also, odds are you’re not so smart and creative that you have an idea that no one else has thought of before.
Of course, there are anomalies, but you’re probably not one of them. Sorry.
Learn how to stand on the shoulders of giants, borrow from timeless wisdom, and draw from a variety of sources to come up with ideas of your own. One of my favorite writers, Robert Greene, reads hundreds of books … just to write one.
My writing, whether books or blog posts, draws from several influences — the 100-plus books I’ve read, blogs I follow, movies I watched, documentaries, lyrics in songs.
I’m always looking for a way to combine and remix source material into something that’s unique because of the way I combined and remixed it.
Sure, I’m not the first person to write about self-improvement, but the way I write it — originally guided by copying and cobbling together many styles — is. No one spins the words quite like I do. That’s the point. That’s the goal.
I don’t plagiarize. I reverse engineer.
I’m not a passive consumer of information. I pay attention to how other writers craft headlines. I’ll swipe headline styles, insert my own words, and create my own unique content.
When someone tries to sell me something, I feel the pull of their persuasion and question why they make me want to buy so badly.
When I’m jealous of someone, I try to steal their strategies, not their content.
It’s all about observation, which leads me to my next point.
Life IS Art
Ryan Holiday wrote an article about being a writer, and he gave the advice not to write more, but to live more.
When you live your life and have amazing experiences, you can use it as material. Practice your craft while living said life, and you’ll realize everything is material.
This is why it’s always important to keep a pen and paper handy. You never know when an idea will strike. Or where.
You’ll take yourself seriously as an artist, an entrepreneur, a career ascender — anyone who needs ideas as currency — when you realize that every second of your life is a chance to observe and draw insight.
This doesn’t mean become an investigative journalist in your own life. It just means pay attention. Most people live life with blinders on, unaware of their surroundings.
If you’re aware and observant, you can see so much in the everyday, the banal: conversations between strangers at a coffee shop, a child’s laugh, a woodpecker annoying you at 5 a.m., the faces of people as they commute to work on a Monday morning, how people walk.
Being aware of life and other people in it could spark a business idea — you notice people with the same annoyance and you build a product to solve it. Same with an employee spotting problems their company could solve, with them spearheading the idea.
And of course, the writer and artist of any kind need to be keenly aware of their life because life is art. Not in some esoteric way, either. Good art is literally something that connects with a human emotion based on life experience.
Consume AND Create
I hate binary thinking.
Especially this idea that you can only be a consumer or a creator.
“Creators” scoff at the plebians who always consume information without implementing it. But then they skew too far by telling people they always have to be executing, hustling, grinding.
Nah, sometimes being lazy makes you more creative. It’s a slippery slope for sure. But you can find great ideas in moments where you’re casually consuming instead of boldly creating.
Go ahead and blow a whole day reading a novel. Visit a museum and wander around for a while. Spend 12 hours straight watching interesting YouTube videos and documentaries.
I notice my writing suffers when I don’t consume enough. Particularly when I stop reading.
You need to feed your mind. Along with life as source material, you should also hunt for source material.
Again, it’s easy to fall into the trap of constant consumption without creating anything or generating legitimate ideas, which leads me to my next point.
Make It Your Job to Find Great Ideas
You always hear stories of “flashes of genius.”
Sylvester Stallone writing the script for Rocky in three weeks, Bukowski scribbling away an entire novel after a bender, so it goes, so it goes.
But like I said before, do you want to rely on flash in the pan moments of wisdom? Or do you want your ideas to come to life often?
The most straightforward path to generating ideas and being more creative involves routine and monotony. Take yourself seriously and make ideas your job.
Come up with ideas every single day.
Focus on your craft every single day.
Jerry Seinfeld committed himself to write a new joke every day. His reasoning:
“Writer’s block is a phony, made up, b.s. excuse for not doing your work.”
My ideas aren’t always good. My writing isn’t always good. I found my passion, but coming up with new ideas isn’t always fun. Sometimes it is a slog. But it doesn’t matter because both states of mind — passion or slog — still fit into a larger category that drives my work.
Coming up with ideas is my duty.
I exist to generate them and bring them into fruition.
You’re probably just getting started on whatever journey you’ve chosen, but you’ll come to find that generating new ideas is much easier when you truly care. When it’s do or die. When you’re dead serious about it.
If you want to make a living doing something that involves generating ideas, act like you’re already making a living from it.
I want to help you, but you have to help yourself. You have limitless ideas, trust me, but they’ll stay with you to the grave if you don’t make a conscious effort to unearth them.
Can You Run Out of Ideas?
Maybe. I don’t know. Hasn’t happened to me.
More than once, I’ve had a reader comment that I’m risking burnout and becoming played out because I write and publish at such a fast clip. I guess time will tell. But for me, I look at writing as something to squeeze as much of the juice out of as possible. If I’ve been given some sort of talent, I’d rather overdo it than underdo it.
And often, people who warn you not to try too hard are the ones that don’t try hard at all. People who never work out warn you about overtraining. Shadow artists tell you not to be too prolific, sell out, become commercial, etc.
But people who love ideas usually get as much out of them as possible.
Picasso created 50,000 works of art.
Isaac Asimov either wrote, edited, contributed, or ghostwrote 500 books. Spanish-born Corin Tellado wrote more than 4,000 novels. Seth Godin has been writing a daily blog post for a decade. People haven’t tired of their work. It doesn’t seem like people have tired of mine. And they probably won’t get tired of yours.
And if they do? Who cares. Above all, your ideas, your art, and your career are for you. Explore ideas until you run out of gas or die in a blaze of glory.
That’s the entire point.