The Idea Machine

This month, as I have for the past 3 years, I’m participating in PiBoIdMo. (For those of you that don’t write picture books that translates into Picture Book Idea Month). It is Tara Lazar‘s brilliant challenge for writers to come up with 30 ideas for picture books in the 30 days of November. Every day of  November she sends an inspiring post from an author about how and where to get ideas. And it got me thinking. Not just about picture book ideas.

It got me thinking about how we treat ideas in our everyday lives. As a teacher and parent, I’m all about getting kids thinking and not limiting themselves; letting their imaginations be free and non-judgmental; sky’s the limit! But how many of us as adults live by the same mantra? I know plenty who don’t. They are stuck. Some in small ways, some in life strangling ways. Sounds melodramatic, but think about it.

How many of you know someone that is so stuck they are miserable, and they just can’t seem to find a way “out”? Now, everyone’s life circumstances varies greatly. But unless you are trying to get basic needs met, like food and shelter, I firmly believe there is always a way to get unstuck. The hardest part is taking a risk.

Here is where the idea machine comes in. Okay, buckle your seatbelt and don’t go anywhere. This is going to take a leap of faith and you’re going to have to turn off that naysayer button in your brain. You know, the one that says in the nasty little voice (or maybe it’s a high and mighty one?), “That’s the stupidest idea you’ve ever come up with. Give it up.” Put a sock in that little voice! Give it a strong dose of melatonin and let it sleep for days. You need to think like a child. Sky’s the limit.

What’s the point of this? The point is, when we allow ourselves to turn off the “no good” voice, ignore what others think or say, and give ourselves time to vomit up as many ideas as possible (sorry for that gross image – works for kids), we just might find a nugget in there that we never knew existed. But it isn’t just going to happen. You have to be purposeful and free. Give yourself time. It could be 30 minutes once a week for a month. Or it could be 5 minutes once a day for a week. How you divvy up the time doesn’t matter as much as giving yourself the time.

Now here’s what you do. Get a piece of paper or a notebook, or even a paper napkin if you’re in a coffee shop, and a pen. Find your favorite, most comfortable, and even inspiring spot to sit (or walk). It doesn’t have to be indoors. If you read last month’s post oftentimes we need to find a new scene for inspiration. Anyway, once you’re in that quite spot (alone), relax. Think about the problem you want to solve, the life change you want to make, the creative idea you want to come up with, or whatever it is that you’ve been stuck on or in.

Ready? Start writing down EVERY SINGLE IDEA that comes to your mind about how you can get unstuck, get that creative idea you’ve been searching for, or ways to solve the problem you’ve been grappling with. I mean it. EVERY SINGLE IDEA. Do NOT filter or judge. In fact, be absolutely sure to write down the ones that sneak in there with the naysayer voice (even though you were supposed to have turned that off. See paragraph 5 above). Good. If you’re sitting for 30 minutes, write as many ideas as you can. If you’re doing this 5 minutes a day for 7 days, go for at least 2 ideas at each sitting. If you come up with more, great! There is no pressure here. Just the opposite. You want to relax into your imagination, and into possibility.

Next, resist the urge to edit this list. DON’T cross anything out. If you think this might be too big of a temptation, consider using a fat sharpie to write down your ideas and then throw the sharpie far away, quickly (try not to hit anyone in the head as you throw). Words in sharpies are hard to cross out in pen or pencil. I’ve tried.

Let this list sit. Don’t show it to anyone. At the end of your week, or month reread everything you’ve written down. Imagine actualizing each idea. Again, don’t edit. Really go with your train of thought and visualize yourself doing this thing. If that’s too hard, imagine someone you admire doing it. See how they go about it. Imagine and visual yourself (or your hero) smiling, feeling good doing this thing. Now go on to the next idea and do the same thing.

A couple of surprising things might happen. One, you might come up with a new idea as you’re doing this exercise. Write it down! The other – and here’s the ultimate goal – you might actually hear yourself saying, “I can do this.”

So that’s it. No need to be stuck any more.

Now go ahead, turn on your idea machine, and let’s hear from you! Give yourself a starting date (like, um, today?) and an ending date (no later than 30 days from now). Post a comment and tell us how many ideas you came up with.

Life Lesson #13: You can always create something from nothing if you let your ingenuity be free, like bored-to-tears Gavin, in Mark Fearing’s latest hit…



(Click on image for a link to Mark’s website)


4 thoughts on “The Idea Machine

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