How did they come up with that?
Many of us find ourselves asking that question on a regular basis. We see a unique movie. We watch a captivating TV show. We read a book that we just can’t put down.
And it’s not just the execution of the idea. Often, what catches our attention the most is the premise of the story being told.
It’s tempting to think that there are no original ideas anymore. To an extent, that is true, and yet we still find ourselves consuming original forms of media telling stories that we’ve never heard of before. So how are they doing it? Are they just geniuses? Are they far more talented than you?
The truth is, successful storytellers are not any smarter than you are. There might be a genius here and there, but largely, these are ordinary people with the same resources and brainpower that you have access to as well. The difference is that they have techniques and tools that they are using to generate original ideas.
But here’s the good news: today, I’m going to show you exactly what those tools are. And they won’t even cost you a thing.
You see, producing ideas is far more about mindset than anything else. If you can change your mindset when you are looking for new ideas, then you can become an idea machine.
Let’s talk about a few different ways that you can create new ideas on a regular basis. The next idea you come up with might become that best-selling book that you’ve always wanted to produce.
This approach is famously touted by author and podcaster James Altucher. He says it’s one of his secrets to becoming an “idea machine”.
The concept is fairly simple. Every single day, at some point, you grab a piece of paper and write down 10 new ideas. That’s it. That’s the secret.
While it’s deceptively easy, you might find after a few days that it is increasingly a challenge. But therein lies the genius of the method. By creating 10 ideas every single day, you force the muscles in your brain to start working. That’s why it becomes more difficult over time. Just like working out your body, the muscles in your brain need to be worked out as well. They become sore and tired, which makes the process harder.
But don’t let that discourage you. That’s actually the entire point of the exercise. You’re trying to strengthen those muscles so that it becomes easier and easier to produce new ideas over time.
But what if you can’t come up with 10 ideas? Then come up with twenty.
That might not sound like the right answer, but it actually speaks to the purpose of the entire process. The idea isn’t to come up with 10 new good ideas every day. It is simply to come up with 10 ideas.
Good ideas come from a lot of bad ideas. When you force yourself to try to come up with good ideas, you start censoring yourself. But when you censor yourself, you limit your ability to come up with those good ideas. Over time, you have to allow your brain to explore. Once your brain can explore and play with ideas, that’s when you start coming up with original, good ideas.
Along the same lines as the previous idea, freewriting is a great way of generating new content and new ideas at a rapid pace.
Again, the concept is simple: all you have to do is open up a document and start writing.
How does this generate new ideas? Because, again, your goal is to stop censoring yourself. You aren’t focused on generating good ideas. All you want to do is train your brain to dump out whatever is on your mind.
As you write down bad idea after bad idea, eventually your brain starts hitting on the good ones. But you only get those good ones by sifting through the bad ones first.
Freewriting can be done in any number of ways. Some people swear by freewriting by hand, while others are much more comfortable at a keyboard. There’s no wrong way to do it. In fact, the only right way to do it is whichever way you’ll actually do it.
As far as the method itself, you can either do a timed method or a list method.
The list method is kind of like the previous exercise, but on steroids. Open up a document and commit to writing 100 ideas in a row. You might want to guide those ideas on a particular subject, so that you have something to focus on. But don’t stop until you hit 100.
Let’s be clear: of those 100 ideas, probably 98 of them are going to be terrible. Embarrassingly bad, actually. But don’t worry about that. Nobody else is going to see this list except you. And as you look at that list of almost 100 bad ideas, you’ll be able to find the one or two good ideas that you can build upon. Or, you’ll find a bad idea that has the seed of a good idea within it. Either way, writing down 100 ideas is a great way of finding the good ones.
The timed method is also very popular among writers who like to employ freewriting. Open up a document or grab a notebook, set a timer for 10, 20, or 30 minutes, and start writing. Don’t stop until the timer goes off.
Again, you’re looking to stop censoring yourself. Focusing on this method allows you to get every bad idea out of your way so that you can find the good ideas buried deep within your brain.
Regardless of the method that you choose, there is only one rule to freewriting: don’t stop writing. Once you set a goal, you keep the pen or your fingers moving until you’ve reached that goal. You’re not allowed to go back and edit, and you’re not allowed to stop and think. Just keep everything moving for the duration of the exercise. That’s the only way to get all the bad ideas out so that you can find the good ones.
This is an old school way of generating ideas, but it’s also incredibly effective. It also is based on a principle of psychology.
If you go driving around observing cars, nothing might jump out at you. You might just see cars everywhere, but that’s about it. Now, let’s say you go out for a drive and you tell yourself that you’re going to look for all the black cars.
You know what will happen? You will see black cars everywhere. You will suddenly notice that it seems every other driver is driving a black car.
That doesn’t mean that anything changed between the two times you went out driving. But your brain sees more when it is looking for something specific.
Let’s take that into idea generation. If you observe the world through the lens of idea generation, you might find yourself coming up with more ideas than you can count.
Suppose you want to come up with a new storyline for a murder mystery that you’re working on. You need a creative way for a victim to die.
If you walk out into the world and start observing it with that focus in mind, you’re going to start seeing all sorts of different ways that someone could die. It doesn’t mean that the world is any more dangerous than it was before. All it means is that your brain started seeing those ideas that were right in front of your face the entire time.
That’s why many teachers of writing often have someone sit in a public location and create stories out of the people that they see. There are all sorts of stories in the world, and you just have to look for them.
Often, if you need inspiration, the best thing you can do is just get out among the living for a little while. You might be surprised at how many ideas there are out there ripe for the taking.
To sum up, ideas are everywhere. They are out in the world, and they are inside your brain as well. You don’t have to create them. All you have to do is observe them. If you look for them, you will find them.
Once you switch on that part of your brain, you will find that you have more ideas than what you can work with. You will have a treasure chest of ideas and concepts to write about, and writer’s block will become a thing of the past.