“One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche
One of the most common things writers—and really any creator—is asked is the dreaded ‘where do you get your ideas from.’
I say dreaded, because most of the time the question is ‘I don’t know,’ or, ‘If I knew I wouldn’t ever have writers block.’ It can feel like the bursts of inspiration that become the foundation of some of the most unique ideas of our generation come out of the ether fully formed, as if granted by some god. In fact, the Greecians and Romans believed that spirits called geniuses bestowed creativity on the select few.
I can’t speak for others, but the more I write, the more I understand that the way ideas form for me is both a scientific process and a practice in patience. If you delve into brain science, you’ll find that our subconscious brain is much quicker at processing information than our conscious brain is. We can only consciously do so many things at once. This is why you may sometimes struggle to find a word, and then the moment you’re not thinking about it, it comes to you.
This may seem like a useless skill, because how do you consciously control what your subconscious brain is working out? But we actually do this by what we focus on consciously. Wherever you spend your daily energy, that’s what your subconscious brain will be processing in the background too. When we say ‘I’ll sleep on it’ what we really mean is that our subconscious mind is literally working on the problem as we sleep, running through scenarios and looking at all the factors when we aren’t even aware of it.
When it comes to creativity, this is possibly the explanation for the ‘lightbulb moment’ that leads to innovative ideas. It’s when our subconscious mind has come up with a plan of action that makes the most sense based on all the factors available to us, even the ones we hadn’t considered consciously.
From there it’s a matter of implementation, and that really depends on the creator. For writers, that may mean plotting an outline up front, or ‘discovery writing’ where you learn the story as you write and spend more time on the editing phase. Along the way, there will be roadblocks where authors need to circle back to letting their subconscious do the work for inspiration to strike.
In the next newsletter, I’ll explain how I use this and other techniques to come up with my own ideas, including using alternate avenues of thought and remixing.