As a creative, there comes a time when I ask myself: “What am I going to do next?” I hit a creative wall and I struggle to generate new ideas for whatever I may be working on.
These moments can be extremely frustrating for me. As a fellow creative, you may feel similarly exasperated. So today I’m sharing the 9 techniques I use to break down that wall and release the river of creativity that is buried within.
Related read: 12 Quick Ways to Generate Ideas for Your Podcast.
1. Write it Down
The first way to generate new ideas is arguably the most important. Write down all your ideas in one journal/notepad that is dedicated to keeping all your inspired thoughts.
Isn’t it frustrating when you get a brilliant idea but one hour later and you’ve completely forgotten what it was? It drives me up the wall! I now keep a journal on me so that I never forget a single thing. The moment an idea strikes, I write it down and can always come back to it at a later stage.
The beauty about having a notepad just for my ideas is that when I come back to it I can build on previous ideas. So, when a new thought strikes, I quickly flip through my journal to see if it follows the pattern of an earlier idea. I can keep developing a single topic even when moments of inspiration for it are far apart.
A brilliant idea is never far away when you have your own, self-made, journal of inspiration to rely on.
2. Read, Listen, Observe
Reading is a great way to unlock ideas that are hidden in your subconscious. By exploring another feat of creativity, you will no doubt find pieces of text that inspire you to explore your creative potential. The same is true for listening to your favorite podcast or a favorite song and watching a great movie or TV show.
I absolutely love reading a good book. It relaxes me and allows my mind to drift between different worlds. As I travel through different literary dimensions, I’m always struck with profound ideas and thoughts. Sometimes they aren’t even connected to what I am reading. But they still hold a great purpose for my next podcast episode idea or blog idea.
My best ideas come to me when I have my earphones on and the perfect song is drowning out all other sounds. Music has a way of saying exactly how I feel. Sometimes, that confirmation of my emotional state is all I need to kick back into a creative mindset.
As a writer, my job is to transform the text into a visual image in your mind. You must be able to envision whatever I am writing about as if it is a movie—written by me, directed by you. TV has never failed to inspire me because, after watching something riveting, I always sit back and think to myself: “Okay, how could I put that stunning image into words?” That leads to a process of trying different ways to recreate that visual image in text. And before I know it I have 10 new ideas that I wasn’t even looking for.
Books, podcasts (and other audio mediums), and the things we watch on a screen have been created to educate, inspire, and entertain. When we are struggling to generate new ideas, it would be remiss of us not to look for inspiration in the art forms that speak directly to what we are trying to achieve.
Mindfulness is the ability to stay present in any given moment without any concern for your surroundings, what happened in your past, or what may come in your future¹. It’s being fully focused on your current state of being, in an effort to clear your mind from any distractions whilst paying specific attention to relaxing your body.
Whilst mindfulness is a great way to hit life’s “refresh” button, it is also a wonderful technique to employ when looking for ways to generate new ideas. In a mindful state, your focus is on your body as you attempt to empty your mind of each and every thought that does not relate to you being mindful.
As you relax and your tension slips away, you start becoming aware of things in your body that you may not have paid attention to before: A tight shoulder here, an ankle niggle there. You begin to work through your bodily afflictions and, in turn, give your mind a much-needed vacation from obsessing over the perils of life.
For me, five minutes in a mindful state is enough to rejuvenate me and recharge my mental state. After a short meditation, I have to make sure that my notepad is close by because wonderful ideas start flooding my head.
Being mindful is all about relaxing your body and clearing your mind. This process is like wiping the whiteboard clean, creating space for new, inspired thoughts to find their roots in your psyche.
4. 5 W’s, 1 H
Next on my list is an idea generation tool that has lasted through the ages. Finding the answers to who, what, where, when, why, and how will ultimately leave you with a brand new concept to explore.
Each question aims to solve one part of a problem. If you can answer all the questions then chances are that you can solve the problem entirely.
Here’s how I look at the “5 w’s and 1 H” when it comes to generating new ideas:
- Who – Who is this idea I’m trying to generate for? Who stands to benefit from my new idea? Who’s story am I trying to tell?
- What – What theme’s do I want to explore? What do I want my audience to take away from this idea? What ideas/content is my audience interested in?
- Where – Where does my idea/story take place? Where is my audience (physical location, and/or mental state)? Where can I look for inspiration?
- When – When is my deadline? (This can be an incredible motivator if your deadline is around the corner!) When does my story take place?
- Why – Why am I doing this? (What are the reasons for me to be creative and generate new ideas?) Why do I need to tell this particular story? Why is my audience interested in this idea?
- How – How will my idea/story be consumed by my audience? How does this idea benefit my audience? How can I tell this story differently?
The above scenarios are just a starting point. You can frame the “5 W’s and 1 H” in a way that answers questions specific to your needs. Once you find the right questions, you’ll be able to discover the correct answers, and the wall that is blocking your creativity will dissipate.
5. Brainstorming and Mind-mapping
Part five and we continue with the theme of “tried and tested” techniques. This time, the amazing methods of brainstorming and mind-mapping.
Both brainstorming and mind-mapping aim to generate new ideas by exploring various avenues around one central theme.
With brainstorming, you make a suggestion (which can literally be anything) and begin thinking of anything that you can associate with that thing. So, if I wanted to brainstorm “fish”, I would then go on to mention everything that I associate with it: Water, the sea, a river, food for bears, Baby Shark, etc. From there, every item I mentioned under “fish” becomes a new topic on its own for an entirely new brainstorming session.
Before you know it, you’ll have a mass of content to sieve through and find connections in. You’ll then narrow down what you really want to say and find your focus. And, you know what? After finding your focus, you can use it as a new topic and start brainstorming all over again! The potential for generating new ideas is almost endless.
Mind-mapping works in a very similar way to brainstorming. You would write down your core idea in the middle of the page and then make lines that branch off from the central idea. Under each line you would write down a new idea that corresponds to the central theme, once again building associations and creating new avenues to explore.
Brainstorming and mind-mapping are absolute juggernauts in helping you to generate a copious amount of ideas. For these two techniques, too much is never enough. And when you’re struggling to come up with new ideas, having too much content to work through is an absolute blessing.
6. A Walk in Nature
The next few sections on my list are all about trying different things that give you a new perspective. We often get stuck in finding new ideas because we are so focused on one particular thing. Looking at something from another angle will give you a variety of options on how to convey that very same thing.
First up, try taking a walk and exploring nature. The natural world has an uncanny ability to be able to transport you back to a child-like state of wonder and intrigue. As you get lost in the synchronous beauty of nature, you will start to dream and imagine as you did when you were younger.
Remember how easy it was to think of games to play when you were a kid? A stroll through nature will bring you right back to a state of effortless idea creation.
A new perspective can also be garnered through socializing with other people. Conversations with friends and family or compatriots in your industry could leave you with a plethora of questions and, in turn, new ideas.
Conversations are amazing because they do not have any real structure, They start and end where they may without any objective constraints. As conversations weave in and out, you are bound to stumble upon trains of thought that lead you to brilliant ideas.
My only suggestion is that when you go out to socialize, take your idea journal with you.
8. Have Fun
One more piece of advice for gaining a new perspective is to go out there and do something fun! You may think that this is counter-intuitive in your efforts to be productive but doing something that you enjoy will almost always lead to bursts of inspiration.
The point of doing something fun is to relax your mind and rejuvenate your spirit. I always come up with incredible ideas when I am happy or even just at peace. Optimism is an important part of idea generation because if you believe that you can come up with a good idea, then you will!
9. Know Yourself
My final way of generating incredible ideas may seem a bit left of field. But bare with me, there’s much value to be found in knowing yourself.
Understanding who you are is often underrated. But when you truly know yourself, you’ll know exactly what you like and dislike. You’ll know when you are feeling happy or sad and, more importantly, you’ll know why.
So, if you know yourself well, when you are caught in a rut trying to generate new ideas you’ll understand exactly why and what you need to do to pull yourself up out of that hole. You may need a break and walk in nature or you’ll ascertain that doing a mindmap is how you can solve your problem.
In any event, knowing yourself will help you to find the right solution for yourself in the shortest possible time. Hello self-knowledge, goodbye creative block!
Related read: The Nine Enneagram Type Descriptions.
Light Bulb Moment
Being stuck in an idea rut can be one of the most frustrating experiences for a creative. You hit your head and berate yourself for not being able to come up with one single idea.
When these moments strike, take a step back and remember all that you’ve read here. Try to center yourself and clear your mind of worrying thoughts. Embrace nature and be social and do all the things that bring you joy. Ask yourself the “5 W’s and 1 H” and brainstorm the answers. Make sure that you truly know yourself so that you can take yourself out of the creative block as swiftly as it arrived.
And always (and I mean always!) keep your notepad at hand. That perfect idea is only a short moment of inspiration away.
Related read: 7 Common Challenges Podcasters Face and How to Overcome Them.
SourcesMindful: Getting Started With Mindfulness: https://www.mindful.org/meditation/mindfulness-getting-started/