Guide: How to Have Lots of Ideas and Get Out of Your Own Way

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Transforming yourself into an Ideas Machine

Sometimes (all the time if you are in the creative industry) you need to think of lots of ideas quickly, or come up with creative solutions to problems.

Last week my brain went on strike right in the middle of a deadline, and here is a summary of the things that helped me to get out of my urgh-I-cannot-think-of-a-single-thing rut.

Ok, let’s go. Here are my best ever idea-machine tips. You’ll be spewing out great ideas in no time.

Have lots of ideas and get out of your own way.

Take an information bath

In my humble opinion, the first stage of having lots of ideas is the bit where you drink up as much information as you can. Consume the information. If you have been given a brief of a problem to solve them gather up everything you need and read it.

Bathe in it and roll around until you cant read another thing. Ideally, you’ll do this just before bed. While you sleep, your sub conscious brain will (hopefully) kick into gear and start dreaming up different creative solutions for you. The aim here to absorb everything, and then sort of forget it all. Hold it loosely in your brain. You don’t need to remember exact details. If you do need facts and figures you can come back to them later but at this stage do not worry about holding tight onto the details.

Let all of the information wash over you.

Get up early and dig for treasure

Wake up early and write down ideas before you do anything else.

If you’ve ever read The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, then you’ll have heard of ‘morning pages’. (A daily practice of stream-of-consciousness writing, err…in the morning.)

Similarly, churning out your fresh morning ideas before you do anything else (PUT THAT PHONE DOWN... I see you) makes magic happen. There’s a special quality to that quiet time before anybody else is awake. You can dip in to the quiet whirring of your mind, and really see what has brewed and fermented overnight after your information bath. Ok fermented sounds a bit gross…but you get what I mean.

Listen for any glimmers of inspiration while you write out your morning pages. With any luck, all that information you stuffed into your brain last night will have filtered through by your clever clever brain and EUREKA, something to work on and develop will have emerged.

Deep inside you already know what to do - it’s just a case of spending the time to dig it out and discover it.

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Stand up, move around.

I was tearing my hair out. I’d had about 4 coffees and If I got trapped in one more cycle of the InstagramFacebookTwitter-checking merry-go-round I was going to hurl that stupid time wasting phone out of the bloody window. Sitting hunched at my desk, face in hands, I could not think of one decent idea. My brain was grinding to a halt. My body was all crumpled up. I wasn’t really breathing very much at all, let alone deeply.

In a frustrated fit of rage I took several A3 sheets of paper and stuck them to the studio wall. I roughly measured the dimensions that I needed (to stop me dreaming up a design that was totally the wrong size) and set to work. I drew things I knew wouldn’t work. I drew things that I knew were unsuitable and terrible.

I drew and drew and drew even though it was all shite. About 20 minutes into this diarrhoea of drawing, KABLAM. A not-terrible idea appeared.

I redrew it, moved bits around, shuffled again and before I knew it more ideas were born. All these new idea babies had their own idea babies and suddenly I was a veritable idea MACHINE.

I needed to unfold myself and physically move before anything could happen.

Before sticking those pages on the wall I couldn’t even open my sketchbook to try, let alone have any bad ideas. Standing up, stretching my body, taking some deep breaths and working bigger got me unstuck. There is something inherently special about moving around. It’s so simple, too easy! While you’re scrunched up at your desk being grumpy about the lack of inspiration, getting off your bum seems like it wont change anything…until you do.

Which leads us to...

Do not be afraid of your terrible ideas

There will be so many of them! When you finally allow them to, they will come thick and fast. And let them you must. No matter how unfeasible and ridiculous they are, allow them to be scribbled down and then swiftly move on to the next idea. Thank you, next. All Ariana Grande style.

There are two brain modes in the land of idea generation:

  • Creation-mode

  • Criticism-mode

We criticise and create at the same time. (Well you can try but it HURTS.) Let yourself be creative! Spew it all out! Have a grand old time sketching and drawing and figuring out the space and the lines and do not let old grumpy critic in there get a word in edge ways. His time will come later on. Maybe.

Scribble and scribble until you find a gem or two

It is very important to keep on going and not listen to the part of you that would like to go and make a cup of tea. This is not tea time, this is idea time. If I listened to the part of me that would like a cup of tea and a biscuit, then I would drink about 50 cups of tea a day. (Sometimes I do, but on those days I just pee a lot and I don’t have many ideas.) Keep on going.

By this point you might have already noticed an idea that is not terrible. Congratulations! It is working! 

When you think you are finished, take a little walk about and see if you still feel that way. Sometimes a change in perspective can change everything.

If there is a twinkly gem poking up through the rubble of your terrible ideas then pick it up. Work on it a bit more. Is it still shiny? 

Use technology - it’s there to make your life easier!

This is the bit where I sing the praises of ye holy computers and iThings. Instead of spending ages measuring and worrying about dimensions, I’m able to draw directly over a digital photograph, email it to the right people, and make changes within one tiny slice of afternoon. THANK YOU TECHNOLOGY.

Embrace the joys of the 21st century and you can have your edits done and be off drinking coffee in a bookshop before you can say freelancelifeyo. That’s what I’m here for. Relaxing 80% of the time and working my butt off for 20%. Digital tools make that possible, and nobody gains any extra respects for doing stuff the slow way, or working crazy long hours. No no no.

Ok, enough. Here are some action points which will help you become an ideas machine. 

Action Points: 24 hours to good ideas

  1. Evening: Read everything you need to around your brief or creative problem.

  2. Before bed: Make some notes, and then forget about everything and go to sleep.

  3. First thing when you wake up: Write out at least 3 A4 pages of stream of consciousness, and see if any ideas have brewed overnight.

  4. Later on: MOVE. Work on big sheets on the wall, work standing up, go for a run or a walk and come back to it.

  5. Afternoon: Keep churning out the (often terrible) ideas and let them be terrible.

  6. While you’re working: Ask yourself: “Is there any way I can make this easier for myself?” and commit to making it easier. There are no prizes for doing stuff the hard way. Use technology to duplicate things, trace over your own designs to move them about, sometimes it’s fun to reinvent the wheel, but sometimes the wheel has already been invented so you might as well use it.

  7. Before dinner: Bask in your new found Idea Generation genius.

Here’s the final outcome of my idea session, in case you missed it last week!

If you need some help developing your creative ideas, or you’d like to commission some live illustration, do get in touch: Contact