One of my favorite feelings in the writing life is when I'm just brimming with ideas.
You know the feeling?
When you feel like your mind and heart are just giving off sparks. When your creativity feels warm and flexible.
Solving plot problems feels like a fun challenge (instead of something crushing). Creating stories feels like the best kind of adventure (instead of like bashing your face against a wall).
With plenty of ideas at my fingertips, I feel basically invincible as a writer.
Mmmmmm. It is completely awesome.
It is also completely not how I'm feeling at the moment.
(Anyone with me on that?)
The first half of this year has been more than a little rocky. And in all the chaos, I lost the knack for searching out ideas.
Worse than that, I fell out of the habit of finding them and picking them up. Collecting ideas like the best shells and seaglass on the beach.
Without the continual practice of finding ideas, writing feels incredibly, um, uphill. As in, completely vertical. Cliff scaling.
It's a struggle, is what I'm saying.
I'm finally getting back into my draft-in-progress, and I want to dive in deep! But the idea-making-machine in my brain is rusty and cold. (Yowch.)
So ... I have this plan.
I'm declaring June the the month of idea-making.
This is the perfect time to get back into the habit of finding amazing ideas. To practice snatching them out of the air, and spying them around corners.
I want to pull apart all my favorite idea-gathering practices, remember everything that works, and then open my arms wide to a zillion new ideas.
Does that sound good to you?
Can we create and cultivate a healthy idea-gathering practice?
So that each of us has a huge crop of ideas that get us excited, ideas that motivate us to write and write and write?
Because THAT is how I want to spend my summer. Brimming and sparking with incredible ideas.
Mmmm. Heck YES.
Welcome to Idea Camp. Let's jump in.
Today, let's start by laying a foundation. Getting the ground of our minds ready to explode with ideas for the rest of the month.
(I'm practically jumping up and down with excitement here. Don't mind me. This is just going to save my sanity and my story, so ... let's do a few high-kicks for that!)
I'm a sucker for a definition, and, bonus, I love inventing my own.
So, for the purposes of Idea Camp, this is our definition of an IDEA (just so we're all clear on what we're looking for):
an appealing, useable concept with velocity.
Appealing: I am not super interested in just cranking out a bunch of so-called "ideas" that I have zero desire to work on.
Believe me, I've done it before. I've followed prompts from creativity books and generated a list of stuff that seemed tired and unappetizing.
That is not what we're looking for this month.
We want ideas that beg to be used. That hit that mental sweet spot.
Useable: Obviously. I want stuff I can plug into my writing life, my story-in-progress, or whatever I've got going on. And you do too, right?
Velocity: When I think of a good idea, it has movement. It pushes me, pulls me, practically shoves me toward a writing pad.
I almost don't notice that I'm jotting it down, but I do feel an incredible rush of energy.
Good ideas aren't static. They have a buzz.
So that's what we're looking for this month: A bunch of ideas that you love, that suit your work, and that fizz with electricity.
Let's start by exploring the most essential part of that whole equation: You.
Today we're going to create two lists that will be gold in our search for ideas.
We're going to start by creating a big list of things that you find interesting, intriguing. The subjects that naturally draw out your attention, excitement, and passion.
Maybe that sounds obvious, too easy, or pointless. But here's what I've found: I can be spectacularly blind to what I love.
Shocking, but true.
When casting around for a new idea, I can totally forget the subjects that most excite me. And then I wind up with a dud that my brain might find "acceptable, workable," but which my heart and creativity absolutely veto.
Save yourself the time and the slog by building a catalogue of topics that get your heart racing and your fingers tingling.
Woo! You ready?
Grab some paper or pull up a blank document, and just hang out with these questions for a while.
You can start at the top and work straight through, or start with the ones that seem easiest, or the ones you're most excited to probe into.
However you do it, write down as many answers as you can for each prompt.
- In general, what intrigues you, draws you in? What kinds of situations, people, occupations, places?
- What topics, problems, or subjects are you naturally passionate and excited about?
- What makes you angry? (On the news, on Twitter or Facebook, in books, in relationships...)
- What situations, questions, or images fill your brain with interesting possibilities?
- What do you find yourself always noticing—in relationships, in public places, in families, in stores, in cities?
- What do you keep taking pictures of?
- What themes and scenarios crop up in your favorite books?
- What magazines or blogs are you most pulled toward? Which sections in particular? Which columns, articles, posts?
- What documentaries are you always interested in watching?
- What kinds of books are you always ready to pick up?
- What types of art just grab you? Which forms, what colors, what presentations?
- What movies are you always willing to see? What themes or premises or genres are your favorites?
- What are your most recent favorite ideas? (For stories, characters, other projects...)
YUP, I know. It can be hard to step out of the way you think, and take notes on your own mind. It's tough for me too!
Come back to this list a few more times, cycle back through the questions, and add to it. The longer your list, the more options you'll have later.
Because this, my friends, is an extremely valuable practice: to find out what you love. To keep studying where your best ideas will spring from.
We'll be coming back to this list again and again this month.
Whew! Shake out your hands, shake out your brain, and then:
Let's make a second list. This is the Curiosity List!
It's definitely related to the first list, but it has a slightly different flavor.
And I LOVE my Curiosity List.
It's pretty self-explanatory: Any time something crosses my path that makes me think, "huh, that's kind of cool," I add it to the list. (My latest entries: the dances of bees, and mimes in Paris—they even have a school!)
Unlike our first list, this isn't necessarily stuff I know a lot about. It's not going to be the subject of a bunch of conversations of mine, or something I've diligently been studying.
I don't even have super strong emotions about any of the items.
It's just a list of little things that sort of nudge my mind. Things I'm, well, curious about. (Bats that live under bridges, Cambridge University, the legends of Bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest, near-space travel...)
So what good is a Curiosity List?
Well, in Elizabeth Gilbert's terms, it's a list of clues.
Clues to where your next ideas could be. Clues to what projects you'll want to pursue, what subjects you'll want to learn more about.
(I spend twenty minutes on Fridays just diving into one of the items from my Curiosity List. I just explore, I take notes or I don't, and I have a lot of fun doing it!)
Like the first list, this is a map to where some of your best ideas are going to be.
So, what are you curious about?
What beckons you? What's intriguing—even if only slightly?
Even if it doesn't seem to have anything to do with writing, your work-in-progress, or anything you could create with?
Even if it seems "dumb" or random? Write it all down.
Push yourself to list at least twenty things that nudge your curiosity.
Topics, stories, types of architecture, animals, situations, people, occupations... anything at all.
Once you start, you might get on a roll. And that's great.
If you can, get fifty down. Or more.
Keep coming back to it, during the rest of this month, and keep building it.
Try to notice when something catches your heart, makes you smile without realizing it, makes your heart leap a bit.
Stay alert to anything that catches your interest, anything that snags your curiosity. Even just a little. Even just barely.
Whew! THAT was some seriously important work! Everyone go get chocolate, or wine, or both. (Wait, is it still morning? Cream in your coffee, then.)
These two lists are going to be super helpful the rest of the month.
They're gonna shape where and how we dig for new ideas. They can help us resuscitate ideas that aren't quite right (by sprinkling in one of our beloved or curious topics).
Best of all, they'll help us know when we're on the right track toward ideas that feel like magic.
Ooooh, feel that?
I think my idea-making machine just gave off a few sparks.