When I first started writing on Medium, one of my biggest fears was running out of ideas. But every time I thought I did, it wouldn’t take me long to come up with new ones.
But constantly hitting the writer’s block was frustrating and something I soon came to dread. It became a vicious cycle of:
Writing→ running out of ideas → tearing my hair and grinding my teeth in front of an empty draft→ getting a few more ideas to write about and repeat.
If you are reading this, you are most probably a writer that can relate to this. Running out of ideas or hitting a “creative block” is something not only every writer but every creative dreads.
But worry no more! I’ve developed a framework to build and replenish a huge repository of ideas. With this, I no longer worry about ideas, and hitting writer’s block has become a thing of the past.
Get ready to say goodbye to running out of ideas as I share this framework with you.
Jot Down Every Single Idea
There have been hundreds of occasions where an amazing idea would pop up in my head, “Damn this would make an amazing article” I would think, and a couple of hours later, I would be clutching my head unable to recall it.
Been there? You sure have.
Experts estimate that our minds think anywhere between 60,000–80,000 thoughts a day so it’s easy for ideas to get lost in this fleeting sea of thoughts.
Having learned better than to trust my memory, I make sure to jot down every single idea I get. If I am at home, I have a notebook within a hand’s reach. If I am outside, I carry a small pocketbook and if I forget it, I use my phone’s note-taking app.
If I am in the toilet, taking a shower, or in any other situation that makes jotting down impossible, I commit the ideas to memory and jot them down as soon as I can.
Even if you trust your memory, do yourself a favor and jot down every single idea you get — irrespective of how trivial or small it is.
Have a Creative Eye 24/7
A few hours ago, I was washing the utensils as my parents had gone out and the maid had taken the day off.
Midway, an amazing idea struck me. Chewing on it, I hurried through the dishes, washed my hands, and rushed to my laptop — 45 minutes and I got the first draft done.
A few days ago, a boring YouTube video on splitting wood gave me the inspiration for another article. I conceived the idea of my best article while conversing with my brother.
Remember the story of how Archimedes discovered his famous principle? — When he stepped foot in a bathtub and saw the water rise, an idea struck him like lightning and he ran through the streets screaming, “Eureka!”.
Ideas can come from anywhere, even from the most mundane of things.
So have a creative eye and don’t hesitate to seek inspiration from anything and everything. You never know, your “Eureka!” moment could be right around the corner.
Have Dedicated Brainstorming Sessions
Once every 10 days or so, I don’t write — I instead grab a notebook, move to a silent room, lock the door and brainstorm for ideas. The goal is to come up with enough ideas to last a few weeks.
Depending on how fast the ideas come, this session can last anywhere between 45 minutes to 2 hours. It’s coming up with the first few ideas that are the hardest.
After that it snowballs — the brain is all warmed up, the initial ideas act as seeds for new ones, momentum builds up and the snowball gets bigger and faster at a rapidly increasing pace.
It’s natural to find yourself struggling to come up with ideas in the beginning, but stay patient and put.
There have been times where I took up to 30 minutes to get the first 3 or 4 ideas and got more than 20 in the next 30 minutes.
To get the snowball rolling, I like to ask myself a few questions such as:
- Is there any advice I could give to my younger self?
- Did I make any mistakes recently that others would benefit from avoiding?
- Did I learn something profound from any of my recent reads?
- Did any of my recent conversations give me ideas that are worth sharing?
- Have I made any recent lifestyle changes that others might benefit from making?
- Have any of my recent habits reasonably impacted my life?
- Did I face and solve any problem recently that a lot of others might also be facing?
As a writer that primarily writes about personal growth from a personal angle, these questions are relevant for me. The questions you ask yourself should be directed towards the kind of content you produce.
As I said earlier, the first few ideas are the hardest to come up with so stay patient. Once the snowball gets rolling, the ideas will start gushing out.
4 steps to build your brainstorming routine:
- Set aside a day solely devoted to coming up with ideas. This can be once every week, every 10 days like me, or every month — it’s up to you.
- On that day, grab a notebook and lock yourself away in a silent, calm, and relaxing place. If music helps, listen to some song on repeat.
- The first few ideas are the hardest to come up with so stay patient and avoid getting frustrated — look around, ask yourself questions, think about your recent reads, events, your past, etc.
- With the first few ideas getting the snowball rolling, it becomes increasingly easier to come up with more. End the session when you start to feel burned out or after you get enough ideas.
Regularly Practise Productive Meditation
Cal recalls how he worked out the outlines of a few of his books while walking to and from work using productive meditation. He says that there are three main things to keep in mind:
- Be wary of distractions and looping. The brain is lazy and tries to seek the easy ways out — giving in to distractions and repeatedly bringing up old thoughts and ideas also called looping. When you find yourself distracted or in a thought loop, take a pause and continue.
- Structure your thinking. Before starting your practice, establish definite variables for your thinking. So for a proof problem, the variables would be lemmas and axioms. While for coming up with ideas, a few questions to ponder over would do.
- Unconscious thoughts. The Unconscious Thought Theory (UTT) posits that the mind is capable of performing tasks outside our awareness. So walking in nature can be more effective than walking on the terrace thanks to the increased external stimuli.
I like to practice productive meditation while sitting in the toilet, taking a shower, or walking on the terrace. Find your own form of productive meditation and practice it.
Creativity or thinking, in general, is a muscle and with constant mental exercise, it can be honed to become better and faster.
Sift Through Your Past Content
I happened to realize that one of the biggest resources of ideas that I had been ignoring was my past articles. Since then, every time I have sifted through my past articles, I have come up with new ideas.
Don’t sit on your past content.
Not only can you get new ideas from your past content but you can also “spin” them to create new content. You can do this in two ways:
- Content spinning. This is nothing but “repurposing” a piece of old content for a different audience. For example, I spun my Ultimate Skinny Guide’s Guide to The Gym into the Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to The Gym
- Idea spinning. As humans, our beliefs, ideals, and perspective of things tend to change. So you can use the reuse the idea in an old piece to create a new one with the only change being your perspective.
Think of it as creating a new version out of an “outdated” version.
Consume Others’ Content
It’s only when you expose yourself to new ideas, that you can hope to significantly broaden your own pool of ideas. Also, new ideas can act in conjunction with your older ideas to give rise to more ideas.
As a writer, in addition to regularly devouring books, I read at least 10–15 stories on Medium every single day. If you are a video creator, watch voraciously. If you are a music producer, listen voraciously.
“New ideas can act in conjunction with your older ideas to give rise to more ideas.”
Consume other’s content, especially of the same craft not only gives you new ideas but will also teach you things that can improve your craft.
Stare At a Wall
Boredom is something we fear, despise, and desperately try to fight. But boredom is natural. As British Philosopher Bertrand Russell says,
“We are less bored than our ancestors were, but we are more afraid of boredom. We have come to know, or rather to believe, that boredom is not part of the natural lot of man, but can be avoided by a sufficiently vigorous pursuit of excitement.”
Don’t try to fight it off but rather embrace it. Boredom provides a calm and stress-free environment that is extremely conducive to creativity. Famous psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says,
“A person is in his best creative state when he is in flow and in today’s anxiety heavy world, boredom is essential to induce flow.”
Normally, ideas do come up but they get lost in the chaos. With boredom, your mind is like a still body of water where even the smallest idea or the slightest ripple becomes visible.
Some of the greatest creations in history were conceived out of boredom such as Harry Potter that JK Rowling conceived on a boring train ride and The Magic Flute that Mozart wrote out of sheer boredom.
So get comfortable with staring at a wall. Who knows, a life-changing idea might be right around the corner.
“With boredom, your mind is like a still body of water where even the smallest idea or the slightest ripple becomes visible.”
As creatives, ideas form the core of our crafts, and making sure to never run out of them is the key to a hassle-free creative process. Here’s how:
- Jot down every idea you get using a notebook, a pocketbook, a note-taking app, or anything else. With our minds thinking 60,000–80,000 thoughts a day, ideas will get lost so do NOT trust your memory.
- Have a creative eye 24/7. Don’t hesitate to seek inspiration from anything and everything.
- Every 7–15 days, have a dedicated brainstorming session. Find a calm place, grab a notebook and brainstorm. It will be slow in the beginning so stay patient and let it snowball.
- Go through your past content to not only find new ideas but also to find opportunities to “spin” them into new pieces of content.
- Regularly practice productive meditation. It can be walking your dog, walking to and fro work, or even sitting on the toilet seat like me. Before starting, structure your thinking, and while doing it, be wary of distractions and looping thoughts.
- Regularly consume other’s content to not only expose yourself to new ideas and expand your idea pool but also to learn and improve your craft.
- Embrace boredom. Remember that boredom is a creative’s best friend. Sit back and let your thoughts flow. The next great idea might be just around the corner.
Thanks for reading! If you liked this, you might also like,
How to Make the Most Out of Boredom
Boredom happens to everyone but whether or not you get bored is up to you.