Every creator has to endure this awful, nonsense question probably a thousand times per lifetime:
“wHeRe dO yOu GeT yOuR iDeAs?”
Urgh, spare me.
This question is the worst.
The common answer is “they just come to me”. I hope that was useful…
Other folks offer more detail, like their ideas come to them while driving, in the shower, on long walks…
But surely the people who ask this question also walk, drive and (gulp) shower?
The honest answer?
We put the work in.
Amateurs like this question because many of them say to themselves, “once I get a great idea for a novel/business/app/whatever, I’ll get to work!”
But creative people don’t have that problem.
Most of us don’t scrounge for ideas, getting enough to get by…
The problem your typical creator faces is not a drought but a flood. Out of the many, many, many ideas, which do you focus on and which do you ignore?
If you don’t have this problem, your creativity is out of whack.
But that’s not the worst thing about this awful question. The biggest problem with it is it obscures a similar – and much better – question:
How do you get better ideas?
Because you can always come up with better ideas than what you do.
Saturate your brain with knowledge
If you’re writing for someone other than yourself, then pay attention when you run out of ideas.
It’s a sign, like a canary in a goldmine, that you have some work to do.
If you write fiction, think about your audience.
If you’re a copywriter, think about your market.
When you know them well enough, you’ll always know what to write.
You’ll know what they like, what they hate, what they’re sick of and what will get their attention.
Then you can go the other way:
Learn everything you can about something that isn’t your audience or topic.
Dive deep into some random topic you find appealing. The only condition is it must be unrelated to what you’re working on.
Every idea you have links to every other idea in your mind. Some of those connections are strong and obvious, others are subtle. By focusing on two unrelated things at the same time, you force your brain to make connections it wouldn’t normally do.
Do that and your brain will burst with ideas.
Practice makes productive
If you want more or better ideas, then treat ‘idea creation’ as a skill:
Something you can practice.
So if you want to get better at it, do more of it.
If you struggle to come up with ideas, force yourself to come up with ten of them. Right now. They don’t have to be good, they just have to exist.
If you struggle to get started on a project, take one of your ideas and… well, get started. Close your browsers, put your phone in a drawer and sit there, ready to create. Again, you don’t have to write much or write well – simply write something.
And so on.
You’re probably great at several of the phases of creation. Get good at all of them and your writing will burst from you.
Imitation is the sincerest form of inspiration
If you’re a creator of any kind, you must have folks you admire.
Every talented writer reads – a lot. It’s part of the craft, how you develop your skills and refine your thinking.
Besides, if you don’t like to read, what business do you have writing?
I’m sure you have writers you like.
Favourite authors, favourite sales letters, whatever it is.
The next time you read a favourite, give it all a second glance.
What do you like about this?
What elements really work?
Is there something subtle, clever or unusual they are doing to make the writing pop?
How descriptive are they?
How long are the words, sentences and paragraphs?
The goal isn’t to copy and paste what they write. That’s a move even hack writers turn their nose up at.
Nor is it to become a cheap copy of them.
Or even a great copy.
It’s to peek under the hood and see what makes their writing work, learning those elements for yourself.