14 Sep Gathering your creative thoughts
I have been thinking about gathering creative thoughts a lot lately – where they come from, how to collect and capture them, and then how to find them again. For most of us ideas come thick and fast – not necessarily just creative thoughts – but thoughts like, “I need to refill my water glass”, “mustn’t forget to get toilet paper”, or “just make that appointment!” For those ideas that we have to act on we usually resort to making a list so the thoughts (eventually) become actions. Creative thoughts on the other hand tend not to be as specific or quantifiable. I might think of an idea – something I want to research or make – but a simple memo item usually fails to capture the essence of the idea, so when I see “look up red things!’ on my list I can’t usually recall which particular rabbit hole of thought I was chasing down at the time, and so the creative thought is lost. For now anyway – good ideas have a habit of cycling round and returning if you need to pay attention to them!
When I have time to do more than just jot down a note about creative thoughts I have found that mind mapping apps are a good alternative. (I am currently using SimpleMind for Mac.) You start with the big picture idea, then add ‘bubbles’ of sub-thoughts that relate to the idea, but aren’t the primary idea. That way you can jot down all the half-formed inklings without having to work out how they could relate to one another, but if they do relate, then you can add lines between the related ideas. I will then come back to the mindmap I created in haste when I have more time, and see just what I have written. If I’ve added links, I’ll follow them to see what train of thought I was on when I added them. Some of the briefer notes may get deleted if they no longer make sense or go off in a direction that is a bit of a wild goose chase. (If good they may even be copied to form the start of a new mindmap to consider at another time.)
In the past I would pull out a huge sketch pad and a handful of pens and do this same thing on paper, but then often couldn’t find my mindmaps as I’d folded them up neatly and then put them away safely… I found about four such folded masterpieces from 5-10 years ago when I tidied my study earlier this year. Some of the ideas were ones I am still working on, so it was interesting to go back and see what I was thinking then – and even found some good clues that had laid dormant all those years. Another option for capturing creative thoughts is one I’ve done for nearly 10 years. I have used Julia Campbell’s idea of ‘morning pages‘ – handwriting a three page mind dump of all that is circling around my mind first thing each day so everything is safely stored on paper – and then can begin to focus on what I need to do and in which order.
However, I am currently learning about a new way of capturing ideas and writing in a way that feels more authentic for me. You start with a blank notebook and then set about gathering ephemera that appeals to you. It could be magazine articles or adverts, a greeting card, the business card from someone you ran into, a flyer, a meme you loved online and chose to print out and keep – you get the idea! Now here is the really cool bit – you paste all these items into your notebook wherever you want – you can leave empty pages, create pockets in pages, paint pages, stick words down – whatever inspires you in the moment. Then when you are ready to write, find a page that speaks to your mood and write there. There is absolutely no sequencing, indexing, or order of any kind – just add things whenever you feel like it, daily, weekly, or when your folder becomes too full to put another scrap of paper into it. Then you write wherever you feel like writing – and as many times a day and as much or as little as you need to say. You can have multiple books on the go at any one time, so if you have a big project and are gathering ideas for it, that book may focus on just that one topic, while the general book covers everything else. (Make it as simple as you can so you aren’t having to constantly decide where a thought should go.) There is nothing too big or small to include, so go ahead and make your shopping list here as well adding as your hopes and dreams.
So far, so good – a lovely journalling/art journalling project for capturing creative thoughts – but here’s where the clever bit comes in. Every so often you go through your book(s) and look for themes – colors, words or phrases, topics that keep recurring, or images you’ve repeatedly chosen. On a new page, make a note of your survey and see if the results mean anything to you. Is there an idea you’ve been pushing to one side you need to spend more time investigating? Are you still waiting for the ‘right time’ to do something when clearly in your mind it has already arrived and is evolving? Then a month or so later, go back and repeat the exercise and see whether you are off on a completely different path, still digging deep in one place, or if something has expanded to capture your mind and interest. Because this is so fluid you can add to your book whenever you want with whatever quotes, images or writing inspires you in the moment.
So how do you go about gathering your creative thoughts? Please add your ideas in the comments section below!