In this post we examine techniques for creating ideas in more detail, with the intent of using them to create even better ideas. These practices will help when dreaming up new stories and characters, visual artwork, game designs and other engaging content.
Tell yourself, “I don’t know how I’ll think of the idea, but I know that I will”. This affirmation frees up your conscious mind, which is mainly concerned with everyday mundane functions like the five senses and memory, making way for the wealth of imagination that belongs to the unconscious mind. Put yourself in a quiet, comfortable environment and close your eyes. Keep them closed and gently look up without tilting your head. Concentrate on the known facts surrounding the idea, such as the setting for the story, the type of hero you are designing, or the desired outcome. Breath deeply, and wait without expectation. This will bring your mind’s eye to the horizon where dreams meet reality, a zone of limitless, infinite potential. There are no judgements or mistakes here, only what is useful and interesting.
When the ideas come, expect the unexpected and be ready to write down, draw or record whatever comes. Do not question the worths of these ideas at this point, as revision engages a very different part of the mind and will shut off the flow of imagination. Just record enough so that you will remember the concept later during the Revision phase. Dr Elmer Gates practiced this ‘Sitting for ideas’ at first for his own inventions (which numbered some 200), eventually being paid to sit for ideas for large corporations, so refined did his imagination practice become (Think and Grow Rich pp. 158-161). Nikola Tesla also created his inventions this way, adding the technique of holding a ball bearing in his palm which rested in a metal pie tin. If he went too far across the border of consciousness and fell asleep, his hand would go slack and let go of the ball bearing, causing it to fall into the pie tin and make a noise that would wake him up. He would then start the visualizing process again and pick up where he left off.
The practice of recognizing patterns can lead to new discoveries and insights. For example, it is fascinating how the appearance of a cancer cell is similar to that of the first microsecond of a nuclear detonation (see illustration). And how the structure of lightning resembles that of a river when it meets the ocean. Seeing significant likeness in events or phenomenon can also help to avoid predictability.
For instance, if your story idea is similar to another established story, study it in order to put a surprise plot twist in your idea. In this way your story will benefit from the familiarity with the existing story, while rewarding readers with a welcome violation of expectation. The television series Once Upon a Time did this with the character Ruby, who is both Little Red Riding hood and the Big Bad Wolf in the storyline.
Seeing the ordinary in new ways is another way to strengthen your creativity. Looking at a drawing in progress in a mirror flips the image, allowing you to see it with fresh eyes. Or imagine the familiar is the strange; next time you go to a convenience store pretend to be a time traveller from the 1600’s and notice how different everything seems. Harnessing the power of make believe we all used as children is stimulating and very useful. Pablo Picasso looked at a bicycle seat and handlebars in 1942 and created the sculptural piece “Bulls Head“.
Making connections between unrelated ideas and phenomenon can bring them together so they produce a new idea. The use of mutants, demons and magic in the distant future setting of both the anime Vampire Hunter D and the graphic novel Ronin make gripping examples of the benefits of connecting unrelated material.
Taking advantage of chance is yet another tactic to use when creating better ideas. Happy accidents are one example, like a misspelling that leads to a more interesting name for a character. Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming discovered the medicine penicillin by accident. Going with the flow when the unexpected happens often leads to ideas that delight the imagination. Being open to gifts hidden in the form of mistakes will increase the creativity of your ideas.
Constructing networks by forming friendships and associations between other like-minded people yields helpful feedback for new ideas. Just being in the same space as other creative minds can cause new ideas to emerge. The exchange of responses and encouragement from your “Mastermind group“, (another quote from Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich) is very valuable to the life and growth of your creative content.
“But I don’t have a creative bone in my body”. Nonsense. Stop telling yourself that cliche, and never look back at such a useless attitude. Challenge assumptions about everything, both your own and those of others. For example, telling yourself, “no one will like this” is probably not true. Dare to question given facts and truths before dismissing the new idea. If you like it, many other will also.