Bulbs With Long Filaments On Brown Background

How do you get your best ideas?

That’s the question I posed to several authors, who’ve penned wonderful books on everything from creativity to happiness. Because generating great ideas isn’t easy. Of course, there are times that ideas simply pop into our minds. But more often it requires effort. Work.

Don’t get me wrong, often this work is fun, too. As Dallas Clayton writes in his book The Greatest Writer Alive:

How a bad idea starts:

“That looks easy…I could do that.”

How a good idea starts:

“That looks fun…I should do that.”

Generating great ideas is a process. Below, three authors generously reveal, in their own words, what works for them—processes that are packed with inspiration and insight. Which you might want to incorporate into your own creative process.

Peter Himmelman, author of the October 11th release Let Me Out: Unlock Your Mind and Bring Your Ideas to Life; an award-winning, Emmy and Grammy-nominated musician; and the founder of Big Muse, a company that teaches creative thinking, leadership skills and deeper levels of communication in all facets of life—from personal to professional.

Let Me Out, Peter Himmelman

From a neurological point of view, the brain is more a  filter, or a sieve, than an open door.  Therefore, training the mind to be less limiting in what it allows to enter can help expand our access to creativity. One of the brain’s main functions is to be selective about where we focus our attention. Because it blocks out so much input, there is always much more sensory input left behind than absorbed. How else would we function while bombarded with the millions of sensory perceptions we are presented with at any given moment?

That said, in order to foster a greater grasp of our own intrinsic creativity, we need a method to decrease the excessive activity of the filtration system that the brain provides us with. We need techniques that allow a greater degree of willingness on the part of the brain to admit stimuli it might normally reject.

For instance, if I’m sitting at my piano trying to write a song and I’m drawing a blank, it’s often helpful for me to focus momentarily on things that my brain has rejected.

The sound of the rain outside. The smell of the coffee in my cup. A glint of sunlight hitting the piano from a nearby window. A cobweb in the corner of the ceiling.

It’s not that there needs to be any direct correlation to what you’re working on. That’s not the important idea. What is important is that for a fleeting moment, by noticing the things your brain has  filtered out, you allow it to relax its propensity to stop the  flow of information, diminishing its natural selective tendency.

That way it can provide you with a greater willingness to accept ideas you might otherwise reject or neglect. And that’s why so many of us have our most powerful revelations in the shower.  The warm water on our naked skin, the smell of the soap, and the sound of the water cause our analytical minds to take a break and our sensory perceptions to predominate.

Lisa Currie, author of the interactive books The Positivity Kit: Instant Happiness on Every Page and Me, You, Us; and an artist living in Melbourne, Australia.

the positivity kit, Lisa Currie

This is my recipe for having good ideas. Ingredients:

  • Free time to walk around my neighborhood aimlessly.
  • Phone or notebook to jot down ideas immediately or I’ll forget.
  • Books that are about anything except “how to be creative” (I like books about psychology, history and outer space).
  • Mug of coffee or tea for brain fuel and keeping hands warm.
  • Cafe with good people-watching and who don’t try to “move you on.”
  • An hour or more of not checking my phone, even though my brain wants to.

Method is: Mix together in whatever quantity you can find today. Baking time varies, but usually the idea will be ready at 1 a.m. just as I’m trying to fall asleep.

Christopher Locke, author of the October 4th release Draw Like This!: How Anyone Can See the World Like an Artist–and Capture It on Paper; and an artist and art teacher in Austin, Texas.

Draw Like This! Christopher Locke

The Building of an Idea

Inspiration is like wind. It happens all around us, but it’s often ignored. If it gets too strong, we run for cover. It’s free, and endlessly benefits those who can harness it.

Inspiration is like a mousetrap. It doesn’t come from nowhere. I need to start with something, and dedicate a safe place for it. I need to set it and give it bait, then put it away and be patient. It must be checked periodically, but not too frequently.

Inspiration is like boiling water. I combine fire and water and metal, and let it work while I do something else. Suddenly, bubbles start popping and it’s ready to go.

Inspiration is the punchline to a meandering and stuttering joke, as told by a nervous child. It’s torture getting there, but it arrives with wide eyes, out of breath, and sometimes wallowing in complete nonsense. It’s such a relief.

Several years ago, I bought a big box of scissors that had been confiscated at an airport in Texas. My loving wife asked “what are you going to do with those?”

“No idea. But when I do, it’s going to be great.”

I set a small pile of scissors on the table by the couch, put a few on the kitchen counter near the garage, and some on the bedroom dresser. Every night, as I languished in the murk between awake and asleep, I thought about them. The scissors became tables and people and DNA and shoes and fruit baskets in my mind. Two weeks later, I cut up a few pairs of scissors in the garage, and it suddenly hit me. They were spiders. They had been spiders all along.

I turned the scissors into spiders, and it was great.


For more on brainstorming ideas, see this piece, which features different strategies.

Image credit: g_peshkova/Bigstockphoto.com