What do you do when you run out of ideas?
Typically, when I run out of ideas, I hide.
I tell myself it doesn’t matter right now. No one is going to see it anyway.
I do this because it’s easier to make excuses then it is to do the work of coming up with new ideas.
This routine has become so habitual, like a quiet assassin, that it often takes me a wee while until I catch on to what’s happening. As Steven Pressfield says in The War of Art, resistance is seductive.
My resistance shows up in the form of cups of tea, playing with my daughter a little bit longer and reminding me that no-one cares anyway so it’s not a big deal.
It doesn’t come in the shape of big fears, they would be easy to spot. For me, resistance is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, fear dressed as activities that are easier and momentarily more enjoyable than doing the work.
In the meantime, deadlines slip by.
As Jonathan Fields says, “I’m aware. Now what?”
Beyond denial, I have some strategies to get back into the fertile space of ideas.
Ideas are motivating.
The curiosity and excitement around exploring and manifesting ideas naturally counteracts the fear of the unknown. Suddenly big things seem achievable, or at least interesting to look at.
Sometimes, we can find ourselves stuck in the space between ideas. When the old idea feels too familiar to excite us and the new idea feels too illusive.
Ideally, a habitual practice of recording and recognising curiosities, will have your idea tank overflowing. For some, this is their comfort zone. They experience the beautiful problem of having too many ideas which is a topic for another day.
For the rest of us, ideation is a practice that we can invest in and improve.
The first step, always, is to establish the belief that we can come up with ideas. If you carry the story that you’re just not an ideas person – stop right here. It’s just not true. We are all ideas people. You’re here to develop this ability. (If this is a common story for you, please reach out to me for a wee session to overcome this thought process).
Is there anything more intimidating than a blank canvas?
Next time you hit the wall of awareness and need some ideas to fuel your motivation try these six tricks…
Six strategies for generating new ideas
1. Build lists
Lists are fabulous ways to capture your curiosity. They also help you practice your divergent thinking which is essential for coming up with ideas.
Start with something easy. Write a list of your favourite meals, favourite holiday spots, favourite quotes or favourite memories.
These lists may start to spark curiosities; stories you’d like to explore in more depth, concepts you’d like to immortalise in paint, common patterns that come up again and again like motifs of your life.
Consider these lists writing prompts.
If not, guide your curiosity a little. Make a list of questions you’d love to answer. List subjects and topics you’d like to explore. List questions your audience would potentially ask you.
This brings me to idea generating strategy number 2…
2. Ask questions.
Ideas come from curiosity and curiosity comes from questions.
Learn how to ask an open question and start asking.
When you hang out with others, ask them questions. Notice where your curiosity takes you (try not to redirect the conversation to you, you already know your ideas, you’re interested in mining something new from them).
If you’re not feeling conversational right now, ask questions about your world. Examine your own life, assumptions, ideas. Ask yourself, “Why do I like this?” or “Is this really true?”
Don’t just look at the nice stuff. Good stories have conflict. The best art and ideas will often come from your greatest pain or your greatest triumph. These make wonderful starting points:
- What would I tell my 15 year old self?
- What am I most ashamed of in my past? What do I wish I knew then that I know now?
- What moments am I most proud of in my life? Why?
- Why do I think my parents made a particular choice?
- What has caused me the most pain in my past? How would I do it differently now?
- What lesson did I learn from a failed attempt?
3. Go for a Walk
Honestly, sometimes you just can’t think yourself out of this stagnant place. You have to move yourself out of it.
This is one of my favourite strategies. My preference: do it unplugged and in nature.
Allow your thoughts to wander. Ask yourself questions.
That’s pretty much it.
Write what you’re thinking. Allow the stream of consciousness to leak onto the page. Don’t edit. Don’t analyse. Just write what comes up even if it is about writing what comes up. I’m doing this right now.
Freewriting isn’t beautiful writing. It’s not particularly useful beyond the moment. There’s no need for it to be poetry or pages for your next novel. This process isn’t about creating; it is about wiping the slate.
Download your boring, day-to-day thoughts onto the page and suddenly, there’s room for new and interesting information to come through to your conscious awareness.
Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, recommends 3 pages a day. She calls them morning pages.
I call them whenever-I-get-a-moment-during-the-week-where-I’m-stuck pages because I’m inconsistent and mornings are hectic in my house.
5. Create the habit of working anyway.
“Inspiration exists but it has to find you working”~ Picasso
There’s some truth to this.
Neil Gaiman has a habit of going to his office to write. If he has no idea what to write about, he sits there.
He writes or he sits and thinks about writing. There are no alternatives. No sexy distractions. No denial. Just doing it or looking like you’re doing it from the outside.
Eventually, the words and ideas always come.
6. Talk it out
Sometimes it’s hard to see our own blindspots that keep us stuck. You might have tonnes of ideas that will bubble up if you’re asked the right questions or try a new strategy.
I regularly help people come up with new ideas and clarify their thoughts so they can break down resistance and finally feel excited about trying the new thing.
If you think this will help you, reach out for details of a Generating Ideas Session.
I trust this enables your ideas to find you.
Be brave and curious,