GUEST POST on The Children's Book Review
When faced with the blank computer screen, why is it that sometimes the light goes on in our heads with the proverbial “aha” moment, and other times it’s nothing but tumbleweed? Archimedes, the Greek mathematician and inventor, is said to have shouted “Eureka” upon jumping out of his bathtub after discovering how to calculate whether or not his king’s crown was really pure gold: by measuring how much water it displaces. Thousands of years later, the exclamation can be applied to Einstein’s theory of relativity, Newton discovering gravity, or M. Night Shymalan coming up with the twist ending of The Sixth Sense. The question is, can we train our brains to be more open to these Eureka moments, or is that simply a neurological impossibility?
If you want your own Eureka moment, whatever you do, don’t be actively looking for it. Like a lonely single desperately searching for a mate, oft times the best chance of finding someone is by not looking at all. You can spend all day sitting in front of your computer or a pad of paper struggling to find a great idea, but nine times out of ten the real inspiration will hit you when you’re in the shower or right before you fall asleep.
Here are three techniques that we use to come up with ideas.
1. Keep a notebook next to your bed, in the car, and in the bathroom. This is the Holy Trinity. The three places where inspiration strikes with the greatest frequency and often the best results. Whether you’re starting to doze or just zoning out in mid-day traffic, it seems like these moments of Zen are some of the most consistent idea incubators we’ve come across.
2. Take a walk. This is one of our favorite times to think. Like John Adams or Benjamin Franklin taking their morning Constitutional, there’s something about being outside at peace with nature that allows great ideas to flourish. If you are feeling mentally stagnant, a nice long walk can do wonders for getting the creative juices flowing.
3. Take a shower. We’re serious. It’s like your very own Fortress of Solitude. All your pain and problems go away for those ten minutes, and just maybe, you walk out with your next book idea.
Here are all 12 TECHNIQUES we use to GENERATE IDEAS
1. Keep a notebook next to your bed, in the car, and in the bathroom. This is the Holy Trinity. The three places where inspiration strikes with the greatest frequency and often the best results. Whether you’re starting to doze or just zoning out in mid-day traffic, it seems like these moments of Zen are some of the most consistent idea incubators I’ve come across.
2. Read everything. Books, newspapers, magazines, the Internet. Go to the library, a bookstore, or a newsstand. Be open to finding your inspiration anywhere. It could be a headline or an obit or a blog entry. Always be aware of the Zeitgeist. Sometimes the next great idea is right in front of us in plain sight, but more often than not, it’s hidden like some kind of encrypted code, and it’s up to you to be looking in the right places to find it.
3. Eavesdrop. Listen to everything and everyone around you. It could be a conversation at the table next to you in a restaurant, or somebody talking on their cell phone in front of you at the grocery store. Pay attention around cliques of teenagers at the mall or in a movie theater, or when you’re passing by old people on a park bench. Not only will this help you develop a better ear for dialogue, but you might just overhear something that sparks an idea.
4. Daydream. Let your imagination run wild in that boring staff meeting at the office or during that dry lecture in the classroom. When you’re alone or even when you’re with other people. Sometimes I play out whole conversations in my head, or dream up outrageous scenarios. Just be sure not to censor yourself when you translate those mental pictures to the page.
5. Take a walk. This is one of my favorite times to think. Like John Adams or Benjamin Franklin taking their morning Constitutional, there’s something about being outside at peace with nature that allows great ideas to flourish. If you are feeling mentally stagnant, a nice long walk can do wonders for getting the creative juices flowing.
6. Listen to music. Especially music that is inspiring to you or activates your creativity. If I’m going to work-out, I’ll be more motivated listening to the Rocky4 soundtrack. If I’m going to brainstorm ideas, my imagination will flow more readily with some Postal Service or Peter Gabriel. Music sets a mood for your state of mind, and can be a powerful ally in the idea generating process.
7. Bounce ideas off somebody else. I work with a writing partner, so I’m constantly spitballing with another person. But even if you don’t have a partner, use your friends and family as sounding boards. Without someone else pushing you, you might settle on an idea that hasn’t been challenged to be the best that it can be.
8. Go on a field trip. Get out of the house or office. Go to a museum or a toy store. Change your perspective. Let’s not forget that ideas can’t be created from the mind alone. We have to have experience, too. Real life interaction with the world.
9. Think of the most interesting people in your life. Remember, an idea can be a person. It can be a friend or a relative or even the front desk security guard working at your office building. Ask questions and listen. People love to tell writers how their life could be a movie. 99 percent of the time, they’re wrong. But something they share just might spark a really good idea.
10. Look at photographs or paintings. Pictures can tell amazing stories. If it’s an image of a location, remember that a place can be an idea, too. Imagine a backstory for the people in the photo, or an action that could occur in the place. Movies, after all, are just moving pictures.
11. Be a kid again. Think about what was cool to you when you were 10 and look at the world through those eyes. Anything was possible, you hadn’t developed a censor reflex yet, and curiosity was your greatest virtue. Being a writer is just playing make believe as an adult, and if you’re lucky, getting paid for it.
12. Take a shower. I’m serious. It’s like your very own Fortress of Solitude. All your pain and problems go away for those ten minutes, and just maybe, you walk out with your next screenplay idea.
The bottom line is pay attention. Ideas are all around us, everywhere. People, places, even words. It’s your job to be aware of everything, and always on the look out for universal, relatable situations that can be turned into movies. Or you can bring a unique, completely imaginative perspective to an idea. Either way, it is your responsibility to keep an open mind so that whenever, wherever, and however inspiration strikes, you’ll be ready to have a Eureka moment of your own.