A lot of interviews with authors and other creative people feature this question – “where do you get your ideas from?" It seems that many people would like to be more creative, would like to write books and screenplays, but suffer from a paucity of ideas, and feel that maybe there is some secret that successful authors are privy to that others are not.
I wanted to debunk this myth and provide some thoughts on this topic.
1. Ideas are not the most important aspect of creation
Most people, me included, feel very excited when they get an idea – the first moments after a flash of inspiration are heady, when you feel on top of the world, you feel brilliant and invincible and like you got a glimpse into the heart of the Universe.
The reality is however, that getting the idea is the easy part. It is executing it that is hard, that takes tremendous discipline and perseverance and development of skill. Execution separates doers from wannabes, it separates the professionals from the amateurs. The real exercise of creativity lies in the daily toiling away at a project till it is as good as you can make it, and then sending it out into the world.
2. Ideas live in the confluence of diversity
Some people say that their are no original ideas, that we are simply reworking the same concepts over and over. I disagree, but its true that being original can be difficult when it seems everything has been done to death.
There are two ways around this: firstly, being original comes, like Julia Cameron says, from being true to yourself, from delving into your own truth. What unique perspective do you have on the world? How do you see the same events, people, situations differently from those around you? How can you make what’s familiar and everyday to you seem fascinating and alive to someone else? For instance Amy Tan grew up in a Chinese American community where the stories of mothers and daughters clashing over cultural values was commonplace, but the rest of the world was fascinated with her portrayal of everyday women and their stories.
Secondly, an original idea is often the surprising marriage of two unrelated ideas, something that no one thought to put together, but once they are, you wonder how no one thought of it before. Like ice-cream cake. Or putting technology and the ancient Greeks together, in the Hunger Games. You are more likely to come up with an interesting and original idea if you regularly dabble in completely different pursuits, hobbies and interests.
3. Capturing and accessing ideas is crucial
Having the best ideas in the world are of no use if you can’t remember them, or can’t find the piece of paper you scribbled your amazing idea down on. Ideas can come to you anywhere, (I usually get them while walking), and it’s important that you can jot them down and be able to find them again when you need them. There are several ways of capturing your ideas, and you can choose what works for you, as long as you are consistent.
Some people swear by the pen and paper method, and if you are so inclined, you could do with investing in a sturdy Moleskine notebook and a nice pen, and jotting all your ideas in it. Just remember to keep it with you at all times.
For the more technologically minded, with dozens of smartphone apps, you are spoilt for choice with note-taking apps. I am personally a fan of Evernote, as I have written before. The reason I like Evernote for capturing ideas is that you can either create a separate notebook, or simply tag it ‘New Idea’ or something. Its searchable and thus easy to find later. There are plenty of other very good apps for note-taking, the important thing is to find something you like and stick to it, and remember to capture all new ideas in the same place.
Generating ideas is really not that difficult when you realise its simply the first of a long series of steps towards that idea becoming a concrete product or being consumed or used in some way. When you start to take the pressure off, are willing to start small and start simple, and learn to listen for and retain ideas when they present themselves to us, you will soon be inundated with far more ideas that you can find use for.
Let me know in the comments below: where do you get your ideas from? And more importantly, what do you do next?