It’s not all that novel to say being creative can be mentally draining. Where people get hung up is how to keep the creative faucet going once it stops giving.
As a creator — whether you’re a writer, make videos, carve wood, or build solo brands — it’s always interesting to know how ideas are generated by everyone in the arena. So, here are a few that get me going when I feel stuck.
But first, a note on connecting ideas.
Being a connector
I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of connecting ideas, not so much with where to find them. If you look hard enough, ideas are everywhere — even within the fabric of the thoughts that won’t let you sleep on a Tuesday night.
But we’ve been taught that our ideas are mostly mundane, and that the conclusions we come to don’t really matter. For trivial things, that might be true. But other thoughts tend to come to life once you pair them or give them enough room to breathe.
As Sylvia Plath puts it —
I would argue that it applies to more than just writing as far as being creative goes. So, before looking into tactics to turn out engaging content it’s worth looking at our approach to how we come up with ideas. We often approach making idea connections with a forceful manner. I’ve often found that ideas — the best ones — come when you’re able to stave off the pressure. But the problem is that it’s often not possible to do that. We have deadlines, families, ailments, errands, sleep, fatigue, relationships.
A lot gets in the way of creating a pressure-less space where ideas can just float and meet naturally.
Yet, being a connector can be the well from which you draw from, instead of creating things that mostly align with what’s already out there. Sure, there are strategies you need to pay attention to when you’re systematically trying to create a business. That doesn’t always leave much room for wonder and creation.
But there are times when you’ll want to come up with more original content in more ways than one. Where you’ll want to indulge in experimentation. And that’s where getting in the habit of connecting and morphing ideas richly comes into play.
Morphing ideas together can come by taking a few “unoriginal” thoughts and making something news out of them. Maybe you put two or three ideas together and see a clear tangent from which you can create something new. In other words, you find the gap that isn’t always referenced or created from.
I’ve found that the best way to be a “connector” is to stay constant with them and give them time. Arrange them through journaling, or create a system in Notion you always revisit. Freewriting tidbits as they come to you helps immensely. Sometimes it isn’t about finding time for your ideas, but giving your ideas time — while finding tiny escapes to nurture them when you can.
Find places of active conversation that aren’t social media
There are plenty of places where people are having conversations that aren’t social media — or at least not the top five platforms we’re used to frequenting.
Sometimes the comments section of any trivial piece of content gives you more insight into the “what” than anything else.
A lot of comments that can help open your mind to new ideas are complaints. People have no trouble airing what they really feel or what’s really bothering them in the distressed comment section. Don’t overlook going deeper and contextualizing comments, whether good or bad, to think of new ideas.
Maybe you’re answering a question, or using such comments for a subsection of an introduction. In some way, this can help you stay away from the monotonous repetition of what’s already been said before in the same way.
Look through old notes (better yet, organize them)
Looking through old notes is how I was able to write the introduction of an email series that was due the next day. While looking through my notes, I had no idea that what I was rediscovering was going to lead to an introduction that was more creative than the stuff I usually come up with. It’s only once I looked back that I realized re-reading bits that I knew I’d forget later would be helpful.
Looking over your shoulder can help you uncover new ideas that you wouldn’t otherwise stumble upon by just sitting there and attempting to think them into existence. It might seem like more work to do, but I’ve found that often, it’s more work to not go over things that have spoken to you in the past.
It’s a way of not starting from scratch every single time, which can be a turn off to the consistency that creating requires.
Redact valuable tidbits of conversation
The next best place to find content ideas is through conversation. I’m currently part of a Slack group and one of the most active channels is the #question channel.
There isn’t a week that goes by without someone asking a nuanced question that, chances are, many other people in that same vein of work have.
In other words, conversations, whether virtual or in real life, are the next best place to find ideas and develop them. It takes being less absent minded and more present with what’s being said (and by who).
Write down your guilty-pleasure ideas then discard them
I call guilty pleasure content ideas concepts that feel safe to create. They feel like going down a slip and slide once you add a little water. But it’s always interesting — to the point of surprise at times — what you can come up with once you start writing down the easy stuff first.
It’s a way of moving the noise out of your own way, as you detangle the idea nodes in your mind and take care of the easy ones first.
A lot of this can take the form of journaling. Yet that isn’t always for everyone. A practice as simple as a messy list can be a great starting point. But avoiding guilty pleasure ideas when it counts can help make sure you aren’t creating in a loop. Especially if that isn’t your aim.
To do this, it helps to get them out first.
Drink (kidding, kind of)
When I say “drink” it’s more of a euphemism for relaxed play. For the most part, we’re somewhat aware that relaxing and leaning into a carefree state helps us come up with some of our better ideas.
Yet often, we store a lot of resistance to doing this wholeheartedly (and when we actually find the time). We think we aren’t working hard enough to win our ideas because being playful and less uptight about a project feels like we’re slacking off.
Only the earned stuff feels good right? Well, being able to let go is still labor, just with a different flavor. Work that stems from play doesn’t have any less intrinsic value because we feel a certain way about it. Those are two separate things.
Sometimes finding better ideas takes easy digging. Not frantic shoveling.
Become better at connecting, not tactics
Becoming better at connecting, or rather, letting things connect is of more importance and value to creators than learning any number of tactics. Tactics can be a good starting point. But they don’t carry you through.
In the same vein, there’s something to be said about the patience and persistence that it takes to let ideas connect and let things arrive at fruition.
But that’s another story for another day.