Tapping your inner idea well

Idea bulbNothing stalls the writing process faster than not knowing what to write about. The next time you’re feeling stuck, try one of these strategies to help your reluctant muse get inspired. You can focus these exercises on a specific project you’re working on, or just use them as warm-ups to get your creative juices flowing.

Change one thing

Pick a common image, object, or idea and ask yourself what it would be like if one thing were different. This exercise can lead you to some interesting places:

  • What if cars ran on coffee instead of gasoline?
  • What if you could only use the Internet for 15 minutes a day?
  • What if politicians were elected for their ability to eat ice cream?

Combine two things

Take two things that don’t normally go together and see what happens when you create a mashup of the two.

“Your chocolate is in my peanut butter!”

“Your peanut butter is in my chocolate!”

You get the idea.

Get out of the office

Change your surroundings completely. Go to a coffeehouse. Go to a park. Go someplace you’ve never been before. Go someplace you wouldn’t ordinarily go. New ideas and perspectives pop up in the most unexpected places.

Get out of your head

Try to imagine how someone completely different than yourself would think about the project you’re working on. Writers call this exercise “writing the other.” For example, how would someone of another gender, ethnic background, nationality, or social class approach your creative challenge? What’s important to them? More importantly, what’s not important to them? What stuff do you obsess over that they would ignore or deemphasize?

Don’t imagine this “other” person is a straw man or a fool, especially if they’re likely to hold opinions different than your own. Think of them as a person you respect whose experience of life isn’t the same as yours.

Of course, one of the best “others” you can choose is your target audience.

Work in private

With all due respect to the advocates of brainstorming meetings, research suggests that humans do their best creative work alone. This is especially important if you’re an introvert, which is the case for many writers, designers, and other creative types. If you work in a “bullpen” environment or a home office with family or other distractions, find a place where you can be alone with your ideas — preferably a place with a door that closes.

Don’t be a hoarder

Don’t sit on ideas or keep them floating around in your head for fear that the well will run dry. Get them out and on paper (or pixels) even if you don’t intend to use them right away. Working through the stuff that’s kicking around in your brain frees you up to develop new ideas or build on the material you’ve already written.

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