Last time we touched on the idea of “Pitiful Idea Prison” and how you might be stuck within it and not even realize. Today we begin to make our great escape and dig the tunnel to creative freedom that has zero walls, boundaries, or chains to hold us back! It starts with a little stroll…
Long time readers may recall this article on creativity that discussed finding lots of ideas for a specific 11 Second Club audio file. In it I mentioned to you this concept:
“In the early stages of the process, your job is to throw ideas at the wall (or your sketchbook) regardless of what they are. Take a walk, paper and pencil in hand, and just dream things up.”
Now let’s go a little deeper and explain HOW these “Idea Walks” work, and how you can get up and take one right now.
The Idea Walk
Before you gain a great deal of creative insight on your Idea Walk, you must give something up: Judgement. Judgement is not a bad thing. It allows us to logically understand that swimming in shark infested waters covered in a suit of raw chicken wings is not a great weekend activity.
The problem is Judgement can be the enemy of creativity. Just when we really get rolling and start dreaming up some impossible dreams, Judgement comes along and rains on our parade, telling us how crazy/stupid/childish we’re being and that we better stop before someone sees us and, heaven forbid, thinks we’re unusual!
That’s why Judgement isn’t allowed on our walk. He’s going to stay home. Put him in front of the TV with some episodes of Big Brother on, he’ll have a field day.
With Judgement left behind, there’s one more thing we need for our walk: Purpose. Creativity without purpose is often fun, but more often frustrating. Without some sort of goal in mind, you can get so lost in thought that you throw up your hands and give up. What are some purposes that might be the focus of your idea walks?
- Ideas for a new animated short you want to create.
- Comic storylines for an existing set of characters you have.
- Inspiration for an illustration you want to do to improve your color theory skills.
- Dreaming up a new invention.
- Solving a real world challenge that’s been bugging you.
- Solving someone ELSE’S real world challenge.
You need a reason to go on your Idea Walk. Think of it as a funnel that takes the millions of ideas that will pop into your head and focuses them down into a little “goal jar” of possibilities. That little jar will be full of super-concentrated creativity, but only if you put a “goal jar” under the funnel. Otherwise they’ll pour out the other end and drift back into obscurity.
Once you have your purpose, pick up a notebook and head out the door.
At any given moment there is a wealth of inspiration around you. You may just be so used to it that it all seems average. So upon setting out on this creative journey, look around with fresh eyes. Don’t pass by anything. And follow initial ideas down the rabbit hole to see where they lead. What does that mean?
Take this sad little houseplant that sits not 10 steps outside my front door. Poor little fellow really needs water, but I am a very lazy gardener and it has long been neglected. Already sparks are starting to shoot in my head. And they’re flying all over because I never decided on a Purpose. Let’s do that now:
The Purpose of this Idea Walk is to start a story that could turn into a novel.
I picked that purpose arbitrarily, so choose a purpose that suits what you want to accomplish. For this example, the “goal jar” is a novel.
So back to our little plant, the first encounter on our Idea Walk. It’s nearly dead. Only a little tuft of green remains at the top. This plant once thrived in the bathroom, getting plenty of light and enough water from the air during hot showers to double in size. Then it got bugs, so I had to put it on the porch. That was a long time ago.
Translate this idea. A once powerful, respected businessman is at the end of his life. He stood on the precipice of a great financial deal for his company, only to become sick and be forced to take time off to recover. The deal went through anyway, and soon management realized he was no longer needed. Now, years later he looks back on his life and tries to make sense of why, of all weeks, that was the one he became so sick.
It’s a start. It’s not great, a little too mundane and average for my liking, but hey, ol’ Judgey is still yelling at the TV inside and not here to tell us it’s a bad concept. So we continue.
What if the man was instead a great wizard? And instead of getting sick, a spell went all wrong and he was exiled for his mistake. Now he sits brooding, saving up every bit of magic left inside him for one final act of revenge on those who he used to call friends.
Again, fine. Nothing that really brings up thoughts of “Ooo” or “Ahh!” Continuing…
Sticking with the old magician, maybe he doesn’t want revenge at all. Instead he wants nothing more than to live out his days in peace, but he’s constantly hounded by the ghosts of those that suffered in his great mistake.
Ghosts are interesting, magician could be interesting, keep going…
A wizened old magician lives with the ghost of three women. They are a constant distraction from his work and –
I stop there, mid sentence. Nope, I’m not feeling it. Change of course.
The ghost of an old magician haunts a young scientist trying to get his foot in the door at the world’s most technically advanced company. The scientist is the only one who can see the magician, and thinks he’s going crazy, but refuses to tell anyone for fear of being labeled as such and thrown out. The magician floats about, speaking of very un-scientific things (magic) that the scientist doesn’t believe in, and he begins to argue with the ghost about such matters, only to have more and more labmates question his sanity.
Okay, now that’s something I can start to consider the spark of a book. There’s some potential there, so I circle that idea on my page and then have two options: Go back to staring at my poor, end-of-life houseplant or turn my attention to the next encounter on my walk.
The only “wrong” option at this point is to rush back inside and start typing on my computer, picking up Judgement along the way. It’s much too early for that, I didn’t even get off my porch! No, it’s important that you log the ideas as they come, but keep going forward afterward. Your brain will know when it’s time to stop. And it isn’t after one reasonably successful idea. Who knows what awaits when you get to the bottom of the porch stairs and see a fuzzy caterpillar inching by?
The key here is letting the things around you have time to speak. There are stories and ideas buried ten levels deep in every object and person you see. If you’re open to them, and take the time to write them down before moving on to the next, you will NEVER run low on interesting concepts for whatever project or challenge you’re working on.
So consider taking a few minutes today and taking an Idea Walk. What do you have to lose? How much more do you stand to gain?
Idea Walks are only one type of creative-inducing exercises at your disposal. In the future, we’ll talk about others. In the meantime, what are some things YOU do to capture that creative spark? Let us know in the comments below, it would be great to compile what works for all different people so we all have something new to try!