Tag Archives: Creativity

Fermenting Ideas

Writing, especially regular writing like blogging, requires a pretty steady flow of ideas. There are lots of ways to get new ideas every day, but the easiest way is to consume a lot of information and media, and then to do something with your week. Create something for yourself, or do something physically exerting outside. Anything to keep the ideas flowing.

But some ideas sit with you for a while. You may have jotted them down in a little notebook, or it may have been percolating in the back of your brain for weeks or months on end. Some ideas need a little aging before they’re ready to see the light of day.

I try to keep a few things in my back pocket so I have something to talk about on days I otherwise have little to write about, but that’s a different. The ideas don’t really get any better, they just happen to be on deck.

But other things are really getting richer, like 10 year Scotch. I see something on the news, or out in the world, and it tweaks a little detail of a story I’m composing. Or I make a new connection between two disparate pieces of information that were filed in two different boxes in my head.

As writers we need to be able to do both. To think about something for 5-10 minutes, and then be able to write 500-100 words about it. And we have to be able to think for months or years about the same subject, and be able to feel like the material is as fresh as the day we first thought of it, but with all the rich full body, smooth finish and hints of oak we expect from a really well brewed idea.

The risk, especially if you’re not writing anything down, is that you can forget ideas. Sometimes that’s a good thing, just because you’ve been thinking about something for a long time doesn’t mean it should see the light of day. My feeling is if an idea is really something I should write about, I’ll remember it, or I’ll write it that day.

Usually I check in with my longer term ideas in the morning and evening commutes. This can involve visualizing a scene, or incorporating a new piece of information, or debating when I should actually start writing something down. The rest of the day I’m focused on the particular day’s work, but the longer term idea is never far from the surface.

Admittedly I don’t stop and think about this process much. This is just something that’s kinda in my writer DNA. Ideas fall into the two hoppers of long term and short term naturally. But occasionally it can be a good idea to examine your writing process, just to be aware of how you work, and maybe make adjustments as necessary.

In that spirit, how long do you think about ideas before you write them down?

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Why Is That Man Running Through The Street Naked?

“Loafing is the most productive part of a writer’s life”  – James Norman Hall

I stayed up too late last night playing video games. I don’t do this very often anymore, as most of my time that isn’t spent at work or with my wife is spent working on THE NOVEL(s). But waiting for “the next save point” may actually help my creative process, at least according to Jonah Lehrer.

Lehrer’s latest book, Imagine: How Creativity Works  explores the different ways in which innovative thoughts originate, and the ways some companies are trying to adapt to the ways people really create.

Creative thinking seems to come out of two kinds of activity, rest versus rigor. There are times when we are beating our heads against a problem and are unable to come up with a solution until we take a moment to relax (say like Euclid in the bathtub). Other times our best and most refined work comes out of the discipline of doing a thing every day.

For me, blogging has been a good example of this second kind of creativity. I try to post four times a week at the same time each day. Some days, like today, I really don’t know what I’m going to write about until an hour or so before (sometimes only minutes). The discipline of writing every day gets me in the habit of creating something every day, and in turn seems to make coming up with ideas easier.

For a while.

I definitely fall more into the rigor camp of creativity. I don’t like to “wait around for my muse to speak to me”, and I think most productive writers adopt similar habits. But rest can be just as important for coming up with the big ideas. Lehrer’s Fresh Air interview sites numerous examples of creative people “burning out” for a while, then suddenly having the insight that made them famous. Thus, I’m not just playing Anachronox, I’m giving my brain the space to come up with new ideas.


But the thing I agree with Lehrer on the most is the importance of letting yourself go. Whether it’s the “punch the keys, damnit!” line from Finding Forrester, or thinking about how a child would solve a problem, or simply getting a little drunk or tired, removing your inner censor can often help you to make connections you wouldn’t otherwise make. Some of my best (and my worst) writing has been done when I’m tired. Even the good stuff is in serious need of revising of course, but I might not have come up with the idea at all if I hadn’t allowed myself to be in a little more flexible state of mind.

How about you? When do you get your best ideas (in the shower? on your commute? etc.). Do you find yourself more inclined to rest or to rigor?

(A bit of an aside: Though it’s a rough read, the Calliope story from Sandman’s: Dream Country explores some interesting ideas about sources for inspiration, and what can happen to a person if they get too many ideas at the same time.)


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