Being a creative person is hard. Some days thoughts flow freely without strain, while writing a simple sentence is a chore on other days. Mix this turmoil with the stress of deadlines and the expectations of others.
“You’re supposed to be the creative one.”
And, when you rely on creativity to earn your keep, you must be actively working every hour. Yeah, it just doesn’t work that way…
The idea for this blog came to me while riding in an airplane. Not thinking about work at all and returning from a relaxing week away… and like lightning, the thought hit me: you should write a blog about how to spark an idea.
Earlier in the week, I had a conversation with a friend who asked me how I came up with ideas for my writing. I didn’t have a good answer for her. I just write about whatever pops into my head. It seemed to me that this should be a more scientific process (and I got the impression that she thought so too).
Before I started writing this blog, I did a little research to see if my idea-generating activities matched up with others in the creative industry. I discovered that there are many ways to spark thoughts, and you need to do what you’re comfortable with.
Some gurus have outlined processes and procedures for generating thoughts, such as mind-mapping, asking “why,” and routinely practicing. But others work as I do, where the best ideas hit me - SMACK - while I’m doing something other than staring at a blank page.
Here are 10 ways that I have used to spark a creative idea for momentum at work.
Take a walk
Color or draw
Take a shower
Listen to music
Write in a journal
Read topical articles
Go for a drive
Take a nap
Generate random words
Some of these may seem odd but hear me out. Sometimes all the brain needs is a distraction to get a little creative.
1. Take a walk
Going for a brisk walk is one of my favorite ways to escape the wall I keep mentally hitting. Getting outside, breathing in the fresh air, and making a note of my surroundings is the perfect recipe for sparking a thought.
According to scientists, simple exercise, such as walking, benefits our overall mental health and can also help improve creativity. Exercise releases endorphins that make us happier and fuel abstract thinking.
2. Color or draw
Last year I invested in an adult coloring book and some colored pencils. The book contains hundreds of beautiful, abstract designs that allow me to be as creative as I want with color. In addition, coloring is a relaxing activity, and it helps to clear my mind of intrusive thoughts.
When it’s time to relax, WebMD says to pick up some crayons! Coloring can improve sleep, motivate focus, and reduce anxiety. And through relaxation, you can find your creativity.
3. Take a shower
I can’t even guesstimate how many great ideas came to me while I was in the shower. The shower is just one of those places where my mind seems to race with ideas. I was super curious about what washing hair has to do with sparking ideas, so I looked it up.
I found that showers are the perfect place to let your mind wander. It is a form of free-flowing mind activity that spurs creativity. Many studies prove this theory, including one with more than 1,000 participants, and 30% reported a great idea came while in the shower. So, there you have it - a proven way to spark an idea!
4. Listen to music
I love listening to music while I work (in fact, I have some on right now). It helps to boost the creative flow of my words and makes me use more abstract phrasing. If I’m listening to Lizzo, you’ll probably find my writing sassier. If I listen to jazz music, my words will be more serene. I have found that acoustic versions of songs put me in a great place of humor and intellect.
Do you ever listen to music while you work? Does it have an impact on how you work? Research shows that listening to happy music while you work can improve your mood and focus and help you think outside the box.
5. Write in a journal
Have you ever taken pen to paper to write mindless thoughts? Journaling is another way to loosen those great ideas from your subconscious. Don’t think - just write. This method is one professional writers often use to spur ideas.
Keeping a journal is something personal and kept private. You can fill it with random thoughts that pop into your mind. Nothing is off-limits, and often one thought will spur another.
6. Read topical articles
If I’m working on a piece and the client has provided me with a topic, I will turn to topical articles for thoughts on how to approach the subject. I often find a sentence or phrase that makes me think differently or leads me to re-frame the conversation.
Google search is another great tool that I find helpful when considering topics. Just start to type a question and let Google finish it for you. These are usually highly searched questions, so writing about them should improve SEO for the content you are working on.
7. Go for a drive
Have you ever heard someone say they went for a drive to clear their mind? You can do this to spur creative thoughts as well! When your mind focuses on a task, such as driving, it can help bring about ideas hiding in your subconscious. When I use driving to spur thoughts, I usually turn off the radio and leave myself to silence.
Some professional creatives say taking a road trip is the best medicine for re-activating creativity. Unscheduled time and freedom of thought allow the brain to release the stress that blocks imagination.
8. Start cleaning
You can kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, by cleaning your house and unlocking your creative thoughts! Cleaning can be very dull, so why not let your mind wander while you do it?!
According to studies, when you engage in a mindless task such as cleaning, your brain goes on autopilot and activates your creative engine. Now that's what I call neat!
9. Take a nap
Sometimes the creative thoughts aren’t coming to me because I’m just tired – tired of stress, tired of thinking, or I just need a break. So getting enough sleep is essential to high-quality thought.
As it turns out, your brain works quite hard while you sleep. It recalls memories and works to solve problems that are lingering in your mind. “Sleep on it” is a common phrase because your brain continues to work, even while resting.
10. Generate random words
Use a random word generator online, get a word, and start writing about that word. Where does it lead you? Sometimes it will lead you to a place where your mind is open enough to return to what you were working on with a new frame of reference.
When I’m working on an article and get creatively stuck, I can’t see anything around the current situation. By unlocking my brain, if even for a few minutes, with a different activity, I can return to that article with a new perspective. This is a simple way to work through problem-solving and initiating a new thought.
Ok, now it’s your turn! What are some ways you like to spark a thought? No matter how you choose to do this, be sure it’s something you’re comfortable with and that it works for you.