Shoot Ideas from Your Keyboard Like Rockets

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For years, I had occasional good ideas for creative projects. New ideas would pop up once every few months, and I’d jot them down. I longed to create — an online course, a magazine article, a novel. Anything. And no writing came.

I felt called to write, and I procrastinated for 20 years. I had words to share, and I was too overwhelmed to sit down with a pen. I was too scared to find out what those words are. I’ve got a shelf stacked with half-empty notebooks, most of them containing idea fragments for books and writing projects.

Prt of me was afraid that if I wrote something, I’d put hundreds of hours of work in, and it would flop. Part of me was scared that once I wrote up a single idea, I’d never have another one. I was terrified of writing a book and having no readers for it. I was petrified of not knowing what to write.

I feel weird to admit this fear. In my professional experience, I’ve found that ideas flow freely, as long as you create the right environment. Outside of my writing, I’ve worked on creative projects my whole life. I’ve learned that a vital skill to create safe spaces for myself and others to shoot off ideas, good, bad and terrible. No judgment.

Not every idea is a good idea. But any idea can be a launchpad for more ideas. When you’re willing to keep creating new ideas, then some of them will pay off. I knew all this, but I failed to apply it to my personal writing projects. I thought they were different somehow. I treated them as sacred. I believed the usual rules of creativity didn’t apply. Then, a couple of months back, it was time for fireworks night.

How the year without fireworks lit up my creative fuse

“No fireworks displays this year,” I told my family. November is the traditional month for fireworks here. But all public displays in our city were called off due to the pandemic. Still, my family insisted. They wanted to see fireworks. I felt scared about the idea of lighting fireworks. It’s not something I’ve ever done before.

In the end, love for my family trumped my fear of adding flames to minor explosives. So I ended up lighting fuses in our garden then running for cover behind a nearby bush. It was the closest I’ve come to starring in a war movie. And yes, it was terrifying.

Boom! Crack! Bang!

It’s amazing how much color, light, and noise comes from lighting a simple fuse. Beautiful colors and sparks lit up the sky behind our home. My family loved the display.

Then pandemic pushed me into setting alight to fireworks. It also put me in a place where I found myself lighting the touchpaper of my creativity. Shortly after the fireworks display in our garden, I realized it was time to face my fears, and simply start writing. The more I wrote, the more ideas emerged. Writing ideas came to mind and would not stop flowing. It happened again and again. It was like I’d found a way to shoot ideas from my fingertips, like fireworks.

I now have hundreds of ideas for articles, it’s enough to keep me busy for years. I keep coming up with new ideas almost every day. Here are the techniques I’ve found that keep ideas shooting out of my keyboard:

Find an image that snatches your attention — that’s your sign to pan for gold

Before I wrote this article, I was browsing images online and my mind was grabbed by the drawing of a shooting rocket. Immediately, I had a headline. From that headline, out poured a personal story. Then I noted down all the ways I generate ideas.

Starting with an image seems back-to-front. There’s a myth in our culture that writers start writing when they know what to say. When I bought into that myth, I didn’t write! I was waiting for an idea.

I’ve now realized that it’s not true for me. I discover what I want to say in the act of writing. I discover my ideas as I write. It’s like panning for gold, and it’s an exciting process!

I’m a visual thinker and starting with an image hacks into my creative brain. When you start with an image, you engage in creative playfulness. Much of society believes that writers are serious. Writers are focused. Writers are intense. The truth is, my best writing emerges when I’m playful, when I’m not taking myself too seriously, and when I’m a little bit bored.

Freewrite — empty your mind onto the page

Many of my articles start as freewriting. I have an idea of what I want to write about, I boot up my writing software, then I type furiously. I have one aim only: get words down onto the screen. I don’t worry about what I’m saying or where it’s going.

I let the words flow. I by-pass the part of me that believes I need to wait for an idea. I’m taking action. Instead of sitting around doing nothing, I’m getting words onto the page. When I’m done, I look back at what emerged. Sometimes it’s terrible, sometimes it’s pretty good, and every now and then it’s completely genius.

I now know that generating ideas is a physical exercise rather than a mental one. As long as my fingers are moving over the keyboard, then ideas will come. My brain can’t help it. When I create the demand for ideas, my brain delivers. It can’t tolerate an idea vacuum.

My freewriting process is simple. I set a timer, usually for 11 minutes. Then I write as much as I can before the alarm sounds. Whatever comes to mind, I write down.

I go into my freewriting sessions with zero expectations. But I’ve found that almost every time, one of two things happened. Either I’ve got an idea during my blur of writing, and I’ve already written a few hundred words that are ready to go. Or I’ve loosened up my creative thinking, and I’m ready to start work on an idea I’ve previously had.

You are swimming in ideas, so become a sponge

Ideas are all around if only you look to see them. You’ll discover ideas when you’re reading fiction. When you’re listening to a podcast. While you’re commuting to work, or in the shower. Ideas and stories emerge from all over the place. Whenever an idea shows up, I write it down. This is my writing touchpaper.

I’ve become a sponge for article ideas. I store my ideas in Google Keep. Whenever I have an idea for an article, I open up the app, and write it down. Sometimes the idea is just a couple of words. Sometimes it’s a full headline. My favorite of all is when an outline shows up, ready for me to shape into a complete article.

These ideas are my creative touchpaper. Shooting them from my keyboard is as simple as sitting down to write. In my writing sessions, I’m lighting the touchpaper, and the ideas explode into bright colors on my screen.

Create your own writing prompts from reader feedback

I look at what resonates with my readers. I take notice when they engage. I look at the parts of my work that get the most responses. Responses can be tweets, highlighted sections of my articles, or comments. Responses reveal that I’ve found a strong connection with my writers.

When a piece of writing generates strong responses, I use it as a starting point for a new article. I take the sentences that have connected with my readers, and use them as a writing prompt. I put them at the top of a new document, and start writing to see what emerges. By doing this, I’m taking a data-driven approach to idea generation, and increasing my likelihood of creating more ideas that resonate.

Set an idea quota — then fill it

James Altucher comes up with ten new ideas every day. He does this without fail, to exercise his creative muscles. Altucher believes:

“If you don’t exercise your ‘idea muscle’ every day it [will] atrophy and you… lose the ability to be creative.”

Unlike James Altucher, I don’t use idea quotas on a daily basis. Instead, they’re a tool I use when I really want to dig deep and find something fresh. Idea quotas help me discover gems hidden away in my subconscious.

Here’s the exercise I use. I push myself to come up with at least 100 ideas. Working through that many ideas, the first 10–20 are usually good, but not great. They’ll make decent articles if I decide to write them up. Then the bad ideas come pouring out, and it feels like the bad ideas will never stop.

Eventually, there’s a turning point. The bad ideas suddenly launch into great ideas. Towards the end of the session, as I approach 100 ideas, I discover the real gems. It’s a good exercise for my creative brain, and it leaves me with more ideas to write about than I‘d ever have time to write.

Go light your idea touchpaper

With the above techniques, you’re ready to set fire to the touchpaper and launch creative ideas into the sky. You’ll find there are more ideas inside you than you could ever imagine. It’s amazing how much color, light, and noise comes from lighting a simple fuse. So, open up a blank document, and start writing today.

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