Why are ideas so elusive? Hiding just beyond our reach. A glimmer in the periphery of our vision, unable to be captured.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat staring at a blank screen, willing ideas of what to write to magically appear.
But that’s not how ideas work.
The production of ideas is a process, and the good news? We can train our brains in this process by using the following method.
What is most valuable to know is not where to look for a particular idea, but how to train the mind in the method by which all ideas are produced and how to grasp the principles which are at the source of all ideas. — James Webb Young
Let’s first look at what an idea is. According to James Webb Young:
An idea is nothing more or less than a new combination of old elements. The capacity to bring old elements into new combinations depends largely on the ability to see relationships. The habit of mind which leads to a search for relationships between facts becomes of the highest importance in the production of ideas.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR BRAIN TO GENERATE NEW IDEAS
Because ideas are created by connecting existing elements into new combinations, we first need to collect material so we have the needed elements to work with. You’ll want to organize the material by keeping a list in a notebook, using note cards, or the notes app on your phone/computer. By doing this, you can distill the material into smaller, more manageable pieces that are easily accessible.
Once you have material to work with, analyze it. Look at the bits from different perspectives. Turn them this way and that to see how they might fit together, where there might be a connection or relationship between them. Think, jigsaw puzzle.
The next step is to quiet your mind and let your subconscious go to work. This can be done through meditation and/or exercise, or any another task where you’re not consciously working on the problem.
And this is when we have our “aha moments.”
When these moments hit us, they appear to be spontaneous, coming to us when we least expect them, but in actuality, they are the end product of a very specific process that goes on in our brains.
This explains why our best ideas come to us when we’re in the shower, on a run, or doing some other mundane task.
After the “aha moment,” take some time to criticize and judge your idea, build on it, flesh it out, uncover hidden possibilities. See where the idea can take you next.
GENERATE NEW IDEAS WITH THESE 5 STEPS
1. Gather material
2. Analyze the bits of material
3. Let your subconscious process the information
4. Uncover connections (the “aha moment”)
5. Critique your idea
At first it’ll take hard intellectual work, but be consistent in the above method and eventually it will become a habit. As James Webb Young puts it:
…the habit of mind which leads to a search for relationships between facts becomes of the highest importance in the production of ideas.
Jennifer Harris is the co-author of The Providence Series and The Catalyst Series. She’s also an editor and proofreader who blogs about the writing craft and editing processes at InspiringCreativeMinds.com.
When Jennifer is not writing or editing, you can find her hiking, reading, or playing a Beethoven Sonata on the piano.
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