How to Generate Great Creative Ideas: Refresh and Get Perspective

You’re staring at that blank page. It’s scary, and you want to get ideas onto it fast just to take away the terror… But wait, there might be a better way. Generating those lusciously original ideas, to order, can be a tricky venture if you don’t have strategies – but stick with me, I’ve got your back.

Why not freestyle your imagination, as suggested in Part 1 of this series?

Then maybe impose restrictions, as we discovered in Part 2.

Refresh Your Mind

But if none of that is working for you we need to get back to basics.

  • Have a glass of water, eat a little snack, maybe brew a cuppa.

Now, how about taking a proper break and getting some perspective on the situation?

Go for a walk

  • Do the opposite of facing the blank page. Leave that page behind. Leave it for dust. The page no longer exists for you. Then…
  • Use the walk as focus time to think about the challenge/brief/task at hand, or…
  • Use the walk to forget about the problem/brief/task and think about anything but. Listen to a podcast. Feed the birds. Find hidden alleyways or stare at a distant horizon.
  • Walk somewhere you’ve walked before – if it works well, from now on, perhaps you can keep that location in mind just for idea generation. You may find that you train your mind to associate that environment with big new thoughts and lovely new tunes.
  • Walk somewhere brand new – new environments shake up old expectations. I do this often if I’m on-site for a theatre production mid-project and the grey matter needs a jiggle.
  • A lot of this would apply to most forms of physical exercise – though I’d recommend it was solo and outside for the full effect. The point is that you’re moving, and you’re thinking, and you’re away from that page.

Get a truly high-level perspective

  • Look at some pictures of from the Hubble’s Ultra Deep Field work and realise your entire existence is less than a speck of nothing in comparison to the scale of the known universe and it doesn’t really matter what you write. Ah, the relief!

Final takeaway: Pressure and Stress are Idea Killers (so take the pressure off)

Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book ‘Big Magic’, suggests that ideas come to her from a muse. She even cites examples where, when she didn’t take on their idea, that fickle muse apparently went elsewhere. Someone else wrote the book she’d been procrastinating on. 

Whilst I know the ideas I have come from my own brain, not some ghost-/angel-/daemon-type, I do see the attraction in not having to take full responsibility for willing those ideas to the surface. My best ideas tend to just bubble up from the subconscious after I’ve worked hard in the conscious realm for some time. And since I’ve very little say in the runnings of my subconscious mind, then it’s still technically out of my hands what ideas appear.

My subconscious is the place where all the experiences, thoughts and feelings I’ve ever had reside, in some form or another. They just aren’t that easily accessible. But give it a problem, and enough time, and my subconscious can assimilate a combination of appropriate material and present it as something brand new. 

However you frame it, the abdication of responsibility to a force not made of your ‘conscious will’ really takes the pressure off coming up with new ideas. Pressure increases stress, and stress narrows your focus, both literally – your visual periphery shrinks – and mentally. 

Stress tells your mind to solve the problem fast. It can’t tell the difference between life-threatening stress and more day-to-day work concerns. Rather than giving you a whole host of options which might take valuable seconds to evaluate, it’ll present the most well-tested, successful idea to date. That sort of behaviour kept your ancestors alive, but the thing about well-tested, successful ideas? They’ve been done before, many times. They’re cliche.

So, whatever you do to generate your new creative ideas, TAKE THE PRESSURE OFF.

Idea generation is a daily requirement in my line of work. Usually, the ideas come thick and fast when I’m inspired by a project. However, on those days where, for whatever reason, one doesn’t quite know how to start… these strategies are as good as any. They work for me. YMMV, of course. But you don’t know til you try. 

In part 1, there are ideas to free up your imagination and look at the challenge from another angle. In part 2, we helped ourselves focus by imposing restrictions. If you’ve followed through, no doubt by the end of this part 3, you’ll be overflowing with only the very best, most creative ideas generated from all the corners of your epic existence.

Take courage in the knowledge you’re not alone when faced with the horror of that blank page! At least now you have the tools and strategies to get started on your next masterpiece.


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Image: A footpath in Sherwood Forest, surround by lush greenery. Copyright © H. Fenoughty 2017. All rights reserved