“An idea is a thought. It’s a thought that holds more than you think it does when you receive it,” writes filmmaker David Lynch in his book Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity. “But in that first moment there is a spark.”
Often, in order for us to get that spark, we have to do some work. Maybe we have a specific process. Maybe we have specific tools we turn to. Maybe we like to shake things up, which is when our ideas shake out.
Last month I interviewed three authors about how they get their best ideas. I loved reading their suggestions, so I’ve turned this into a mini series, and asked other authors to chime in. (Stay tuned for more posts with insights.) Below, three more authors generously share their idea-generating process, in their own—incredibly inspiring—words.
For me, the worst way to come up with a great idea is to sit down and try to come up with a great idea. Over the years, I developed a three-step creative process:
I think best on my feet while engaged in an activity or task. The ideas flow more freely when I stay out of my own way. I trust that my unconscious is much more creative than my intellect. Running, swimming, yoga…these are my weekly writing maintenance activities that help me bypass by limited thinking mind and tap into deeper creativity.
2. Keep Notes
When an idea hits me, I jot it down immediately or dictate it into my phone. I keep lists and lists of ideas for when I hit a dry spell.
3. Keep Focus
The final stage is to meditate, see where the idea leads me. I’ve been a practicing Nichiren Buddhism with SGI (an international lay Buddhist organization) for 27 years. I chant one hour every morning. This is when ideas really take flight! After an hour of chanting, I literally dash to my laptop. I can’t write fast enough.
My Buddhist faith also helps me focus on my main writing goals: to encourage, impart confidence and inspire. When I stay focused on these goals, I write with less ego and a greater sense of humanity.
And finally, my wife, Yuko, is a professional journalist, my best friend, and much more talented writer than I am. We constantly discuss ideas and encourage one another.
What I lack in talent, I make up for in discipline. To that end, this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson is one that I turn to often for inspiration: “The way to speak and write what shall not go out of fashion, is to speak and write sincerely.”
Fechtor is the author of the book Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home. She also pens the super popular blog Sweet Amandine.
How do I get my best ideas? I wish I had a reliable strategy so I could use it all the time! Often ideas come to me when I’m totally relaxed and not thinking in any focused way, like when I’m in the bath or shower. My husband gave me a set of waterproof notepads that I keep by the tub for these moments! I text myself when an idea comes to me on the bus, or when I’m walking down the street, and transfer my thoughts to my notebook or notecards once I’m back at my desk.
Just as often, I need to write my way into an idea to unearth it. I start wherever I am, get some words down on the page, and keep going, writing and rewriting, until I have a clear idea of what I want to say. Then I usually begin again with that clear idea in mind, and write it better.
Most important, I try to feed myself a steady diet of words, music and art that inspire me to want to make more stuff. I think the desire to create is what keeps ideas coming.
Neborsky is an artist and author of the interactive journal A Proust Questionnaire: Discover Your Truest Self—in 30 Simple Questions.
I don’t know an idea I’ve had that didn’t occur during a walk, a bath, a conversation, or Shavasana. I might even recommend a combination of these. Walk and talk. Shavasana in the bath. (Do not Shavasana in the bath.)
Walking is key. Since moving to Los Angeles from New York, the majority of walking I do is from my bedroom to my studio downstairs or from my car to the dried fruits aisle of Trader Joe’s. These paths are not particularly generative. If I’m adventurous, I will wave my arms outside on my house’s patio, to test the weather that I will not be enjoying, just to pretend that I have supped a bit of California’s magnificent outdoors before unwinding into my various screen-bound assignments.
I’m lying a little bit. I live 30 minutes from the hiking trails of the Angeles Forest, and I make trips out there once every two weeks, or to the manifold green (or, in this time of drought) brown spaces of Los Angeles, sometimes with a friend, sometimes by myself. Ideas happen to me (and I imagine, to others) on and around Mounts Wilson and Baldy. Twisting against brush and leaping over rocks, or any kind of exercise, for me, creates the conditions for creative thinking, even if the fruits don’t come till later, in a more sheltered area.
Beyond physical movement I require ratty drugstore notebooks, where I must first empty my head of all my worrisome to-do’s into lists. The hope is these to-do lists, once evacuated from my brain, will make room for stunning ideas, new color combos, perfect band names, British mystery plots, 1950s radio jingles…
Thanks so much to the authors who shared their powerful insights, which I may or may not be stealing for my own creative process. 🙂