Have you ever had a really great idea, one that came out of the blue and hit you like a thunderbolt?
As a writer, I love when a thunderbolt idea strikes. It’s like magic. One moment, the idea doesn’t exist. Then, next, it appears out of thin air like a rabbit pulled from a hat, bringing with it excitement and wonder at its sudden arrival.
It’s no surprise that the Ancient Greeks believed in the Muses, nine goddesses who were responsible for gifting mankind with creative artistic or scientific ideas.
The Nine Greek Mythological Muses
Today, we know more about how our minds work. We know about the roles of the conscious and sub-conscious and how they work in tandem for problem-solving and creative thinking. We know that they, and not mythic beings, are responsible for our ideas.
Ideas are important in many walks of life, but they are critical for writers. We need new and creative ideas or our works are stale and boring or simply don’t exist. The question is, though, how can we optimize our mind’s ability to create new ideas?
The answer is simple, but it is often not easy.
MAKE YOUR MIND AN IDEA RESORT
The Greeks believed that Muses would grant inspiration if they were invoked and worshipped. If the Muse was willing and your invocation was sufficient, you could wait and she would gift you with creativity.
The Greeks were wrong. If you want inspiration, if you want great ideas, you can’t wait. You have to work.
Ideas are like living beings. They don’t appear out of nowhere; they are born when thoughts and concepts in your mind connect with one other. Ideas want to connect. They really, really want to connect, but they don’t make it easy. Ideas need a place where they can relax and mingle with other ideas.
You need to work to give them such a place. If you work, your mind becomes a place where ideas get in the mood and connect their brains out. You know, like a tropical island resort.
In his New York Times best-seller “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life,” Mark Madsen highlights the need for work. Madsen wrote that most people wait for inspiration to strike, believing it will motivate them to action.
Instead, Madsen writes, “Action isn’t just the effect of motivation; it’s also the cause of it.”
Thus, taking action, working, even when uninspired, can lead to inspiration, which then fuels motivation and further action.
As any successful author, including Neil Gaiman and J.K. Rowling, will tell you, if you want ideas, you must work by writing every day. It’s your job (whether you make money on it or not) and you must do it even when you don’t want to. Even if putting words to paper seems like moving through mud, write.
If you want new ideas, you can’t wait for them. You need to work. Work and your mind will be a Club Med for ideas.
INVITE IN IDEAS AND LET THEM CONNECT
If your mind is a vacation resort, it needs guests. Bring ideas in, let them enjoy the place you set up, but give them some privacy. They’re shy. They’re don’t like to connect in front of others.
In other words, at some point, each day, you have to stop working. Your conscious mind needs the break. It also needs new material to stimulate your creativity.
Stop working and focus on other things. Now, that doesn’t mean you can just vegetate. You still have some stuff to do.
When it comes to writing, authors, like Gaiman, Rowling and Stephen King preach that daily reading is necessary. Reading, whether you read fiction or non-fiction, provides a writer with the tools they need to write as well as parent ideas. For instance, King was inspired to write his classic Salem’s Lot after reading Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” and wondered about an immortal vampire visiting present day Maine.
Listening to music is another great way to stimulate your creativity. I’ve found that nothing evokes emotions better than music. When I was writing my first novel, breakthroughs often came when I was listening to the radio or one of my playlists. I heard the emotions in the lyrics and the melody and suddenly new ideas were born.
Watch a movie. Watch a good TV show. Heck, live your life and observe people around you. The more varied the ideas you invite in, the more varied and unique the ideas they will birth.
Don’t worry, the ideas in your subconscious will connect in private, ready to emerge either at your next work session or sometimes, suddenly, out of the blue.
Recently, I experienced this process first hand. For the past few months, I’ve been working on a very detailed outline of my next book. At the beginning, I struggled with the story flow and character development. Discouraged, I fell prey to the mistake Madsen mentioned. I stopped working on the outline and waited for inspiration.
Finally, I remembered the above advice and went back to work. Each morning, I woke up an hour earlier than my usual time and wrote. At first, my ideas weren’t very good and I deleted a bunch a stuff. Still, I worked on the outline for 2-3 hours a day until I finished it almost two weeks ago.
Each day, after I wrote, I did a lot of my stay-at-home Dad duties, including feeding the kids, cleaning the house, and bringing them to camp. While I did that, I listened to an audiobook or music. When I was with other people, I paid attention to how we talked and interacted with each other. Most nights, I would read before bed.
I noticed that ideas started to pop up on a regular basis. While grocery shopping, I heard an INXS song that I realized could be used in my book. When I was with an old friend, he told a story, his storytelling sparked thoughts about how one of my characters, a storyteller, would act when he told his tales.
Then came the big one. The thunderbolt idea.
Two Saturdays ago, my wife and I want to a concert. One of our friends was playing the sax in the band and he gave us VIP balcony seats. Up there, we danced, partied and watched the rest of the crowd below us. At one point, the band was playing an Elton John song and the lead singer threw the chorus out to the audience to sing it. The lights shown down on the audience as they sang and I saw …
Well, I’m going to keep it secret for my book, but what I saw would have been innocuous in another time or place. At that moment, though, it was weird. Suddenly, the idea struck. I conceived a scene where my storyteller character told a story where he saw something like I just did. I knew the chapter where he would tell the story and what prompted him. As I danced, laughed and sang to Elton John, the idea evolved in my head.
The idea wasn’t Keith Richards’s dreaming the riff to “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction),” but I really liked it. It excited me and left me giddy. After the concert, I told my wife about my idea and how it came to me. She listened to me and was happy for me, but she couldn’t know how it felt. How could she? The magic was in my head.
The idea continued to evolve on Sunday, as I examined and pondered it. The excitement was still there. It may have even grown more as I made my plans.
The next day, I couldn’t handle the exhilaration any longer. I sat down and started to write the scene and the rest of the chapter with it. I wrote a little under 1000 words that day. I continued to write the chapter for the next three days, averaging about 900 words a day. Even then, the excitement hadn’t burned out and it fueled this article.
The moment the idea hit me seemed so magical that it would be easy to think it came from a muse or some other divine source. Maybe what I witnessed was, but the real key was the work I did on the outline. It also was the willingness to absorb creativity from others and new experiences.
If I hadn’t done those things, my mind wouldn’t have been struck by what I saw. My subconscious wouldn’t have been the place where that image could have connected with other thoughts in my head to create something new and wonderful.
So I’m not going to wait any more. I’m going to work, live and absorb creativity. My mind will be Club Med and ideas are welcome to come on in and connect and connect and connect.
I can’t wait.
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