You did it again, didn’t you?
You let yourself run out of ideas of things to write about. Every time this happens, you promise you won’t let it happen again. You put Idea Generation on your to-do list. You write it in big red letters and draw circles and arrows around it. You make it a Really Big Deal.
But when it comes time to do it, it’s like trying to go to sleep so Santa Claus will come. You just sit there, staring at the screen. Writer’s block? Hell, you have thinker’s block.
But here’s a talent I have developed; a sort of superpower. Instead of idea generation being this active task you have to accomplish, it becomes more passive. Which makes more sense if you think about it. After all, you’ve tried it the other way too many times. Okay, think of ideas. Go!
It doesn’t work, does it? That’s not how ideas come to us. At least, that’s not how the really good ones come to us. They show up out of nowhere. While we sleep. In the shower. Driving down the road. Pretty much anytime, we are not prepared to capitalize on them.
Why is that? I’ve decided that there is this tiny receptor in the back of our brains, a sort of box, if you will. An idea box. And when we are not thinking about writing, and especially when we are not trying to think of ideas to write about, that box just pops open. Like that old Jack-in-the-box, you annoyed everyone with when you were a child. Pop Goes the Weasel just started playing in your head, didn’t it? Sorry about that. It will go away. Eventually.
But here’s the thing. With practice, you can open that box at will. It will take time and some positive reinforcement, but you can do it. Open that little box in the back of your brain and let ideas flow into it. Sounds crazy? Well, maybe, but if it works, who cares?
Try this. Open up your favorite social media or news feed. I like Twitter for this as it gives me the most bang for my mental buck, but you do you. Scroll through and start scanning posts. Open up any that interest you, but don’t spend much time on any one. You’re not trying to find out who did what with that thing. You’re capturing ideas.
As you scroll, just keep thinking about that idea box. Don’t look at each post and think, “Can I write about this?” Just keep scrolling and visualizing that open box in the back of your mind. It’s more associative than anything else. Each post, story, Tweet, whatever, is like one of those inkblots in the Rorschach test. What does this make you think of?
There it is. An idea. Write it down. Make a couple of quick notes about it, because you won’t remember what the idea is later. They are very fleeting things, those ideas. Inkblots? Weren’t they a singing group in the ‘30s? No, wait, that was the Ink Spots. Why would I want to write about them?
But don’t spend more than a few seconds on each one, a minute tops. Keep scrolling. The more you do it, the easier and faster they will come. Before you know it, you’ve come up with enough ideas to keep you fresh for a month. But don’t wait a month to do it again. No matter how brilliant the thought is right now, when you get ready to write, it may fade away. You will lose about half of these, so feed the beast often, at least once a week.
Don’t have your computer, tablet, or phone handy? What are you, a caveman? That’s okay, maybe you are stuck somewhere that you can’t spend time scrolling through social media. Like your real job. Get a piece of paper and just look around the room. Scroll through every item in your field of view.
A pencil cup? Seven Office Supplies That Should Be on Every Desk. Four Obsolete Items You Should Get Rid of Today.
Scan from item to item and make sure that box is open. What does that thing make you wonder about? What’s the history behind this stuff? Why don’t we start using this thing instead of that thing? If you can’t come up with ten articles without moving from your chair, you’re not trying.
But again, it takes practice, this idea mode. Maybe, to begin with, you do it for ten minutes once a day. As you get better at it, expand the time. One good weekly session should be enough to fuel your writing for a long time.
And here’s the best part. Here is where it becomes a superpower. After a while, you won’t have to turn it on. You won’t have to open the box. It will stay open all the time. You won’t be able to stop the ideas from coming. And that is a very good thing.
Now, if you will excuse me, I just thought of a great idea for my next article.