By Mary Jaksch
Do you have days where you sit in front of an empty page – and find nothing, absolutely nothing you could write about? I used to. But now I’ve learned to squeeze inspiration from every experience.
What, every experience? Yes, I know it sounds a tall order. Read on to see how it works.
The secret of creativity
First of all we need to determine what triggers creativity. It’s quite simple:
Creative innovation happens through communication between regions of the brain that are not usually connected. (You can read more about that here).
Let’s imagine that you want to write an article about social media. Your page is empty and your brain is on slow-go. Then you start making a list of points you want to cover:
Does this list inspire you? Does is trigger ideas in your brain? Well, not in my brain! At this point I still can’t find any theme connected to social media that I might want to write about.
Now let’s take a different tack in order to kick-start creativity: we’ll choose an unrelated idea and hold it up against our theme ‘social media’. What we’re doing at that moment is to connect two different areas in the brain.
Let’s say that the word we choose to connect with ‘social media’ is ‘potato’. Wacky, eh?
Just pause for a moment and see what your brain comes up with when you connect ‘social media’ and ‘potato’.
Here is what happens in my brain when I connect the two concepts:
- Potatoes grow underground and you can’t see them from above / You can’t understand social media by looking in from the outside.
- You only get to see the size of the harvest when you dig up your potatoes/ It takes a time to see the result of ongoing social media cultivation
- Potatoes are a staple diet/ Your communication on social media allows people to get to know the ‘ordinary’ you.
- There are endless recipes to cook potatoes/ Each social media has it’s own style and you need to adapt to it
Ok – that was just a five minute harvest of ideas to illustrate how creativity works. Even though I didn’t come up with any brilliant mind flashes, what I did get was four different themes for an article. So, if you were to connect ‘social media’ with twenty different unrelated things, such as door handles, cats, rain, hunger, rainforest, or … you name it, you would end up with 100 ideas for articles about social media. That better than none, isn’t it?
What hinders creativity?
There are lots of things that can hinder creativity, from low self esteem to a lack of break-fast. But let me focus in on one particular hindrance for now: linear thinking.
Linear thinking kills creativity
In term of the way our brain functions, linear thinking means triggering neighbouring ideas. For example, if you use logical thinking, you move down a linear pathway of thinking until you have a result. That’s great for engineers. But not for writers.
How to use every experience for inspiration
What we all wish for is to have writing ideas tumble out of our brain continually, so that we always have too many ideas to choose from.
Impossible? No, easy! All we have to do is to follow the principle of association that we tried out before.
Let’s imagine you’re back at your desk with no idea of what to write about. You desperately need fresh ideas for the next blog post. What do do?
First thing: get up from your desk and grab a notebook in order to record even the wackiest ideas! Then let your mind go into free-flow and allow your next actions to trigger ideas.
Here’s a list of what I might do next and the post themes for Write to Done this would trigger.
- I make myself a cup of coffee
“Too Hot to Handle: Wake up Your Readers!”
“10 Mistakes that Make Readers go to Sleep”
“How to Drip-Feed Information”
- I go to the window and stretch
“ How to Relax and Write Better”
“ Give Your Readers a New Perspective”
“Write From Your Point ofView”
“Find Your Voice and Grow Your Blog”
- I have a shower
“Clean out your website”
“Write Like Water”
“Give Your Readers a Fresh Perspective”
You get the idea? Ok, so some of these themes may be non-starters, but they in turn may generate useful ideas. In any case I could head back to my desk with a new collection of ideas for my next post. It sounds easy, doesn’t it? But there is a trick.
What does it take to use every moment for creativity?
You need to use a trick. Actually it’s not really a trick. You need a particular mind state. Quite simply, you need to be present! For example, if you’re having a shower and you’re thinking about who you’ve got to email today, or about the bills you have to pay, or you wonder why your girlfriend isn’t returning your calls – you won’t create a single idea. Because you’re not present.
Being preoccupied kills creativity.
If you want to be creative, you need to become aware of the present moment .
Let the breath lead you to the present moment.
A simple Zen way to return to the present moment is to take one complete breath – and feel the air flowing in and out. Then focus on what you are seeing, hearing, or sensing.
When you are present, you can squeeze inspiration from every experience. In fact, there’s no need to squeeze because being present makes inspiration flow free.
I’d love to hear how this works for you. Maybe you could describe a simple experience and the ideas that flow from it in the comments. Or tell us what works for you to kick-start your creativity.
Related article: What Makes us Creative?
Mary Jaksch is Chief Editor of Write to Done. You can read more of her articles here and on her blog Goodlife ZEN
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