By Stephanie Patterson

The term “strike while the iron is hot” is especially true when it comes to creativity. When ideas first come, they have an energy behind them that must be captured and channeled before it disappears. Anyone who creates for a living – whether they are writers, musicians, artists, or entrepreneurs – will tell you this is true. Call it what you want: a muse, genius, eureka … but it’s real. And so, as a creator, the challenge is learning to capture ideas and develop them in to something. Below are few lessons I’ve learned that work for the creative discipline of writing:

First, notice when ideas come to you and designs ways to capture them. I’m one of those people who gets inspired while in the shower, so I bought myself a set of shower crayons to make sure I don’t forget my great ideas once I’m done. I wrote the rough outline for my most recent post on my tile wall.

The rough outline for a recent blog post

The rough outline for a recent blog post

Ideas come to me effortlessly when I’m doing a repetitive task, like driving to work. Obviously, I can’t pull out a piece of paper and a pen, so I use the voice recorder on my phone.

I also find ideas start to percolate while I’m reading an article in a magazine or on a blog. I mark up the pages or use Evernote  to capture my initial thoughts. If I’ve got five or ten minutes, I might open up my laptop to free write on the topic, and then develop it fully when I’ve got more time. The important thing is to capture the energy of your initial impressions.

Capturing inspiration is one thing, turning it into something coherent is a whole different ordeal. This is the part I’ve really had to work at. A couple months ago, I had a minor freak-out after having pitched a concept to a client that they absolutely loved, and then realizing I hadn’t the faintest idea how to develop it into a storyline. Thankfully, I pulled on the help of several colleagues, and the storyline came together beautifully.

When developing an idea, work hard to eliminate distractions, while promoting divergent thinking. I brainstorm alone and with others, talk to myself in the mirror, take regular breaks, and check out related articles and videos. These methods help strengthen my piece and provide further insight. What I DON’T do is check Email or Facebook. For me, these are big distractions.

Changing your medium is another helpful tactic. If I’m having trouble outlining something on my computer, I go back to using sticky notes and mind maps, which is the first step in my creative process. The ability to easily move around, and group ideas together is hugely beneficial.

If I’m having trouble outlining something on my computer, I go back to using sticky notes ...

If I’m having trouble outlining something on my computer, I go back to using sticky notes …

Save old drafts of everything. Sometimes I’ll start writing an introduction, and then change my mind about it. I’ve learned to save these earlier versions, because occasionally what I write ends up fitting well somewhere else: maybe it’s not the introduction, but it becomes a powerful story for the middle.

To get unstuck, think outside of the constraints, and then return to them. While I believe constraints are necessary and strengthen the creative process, if I focus too much on them – whether it’s a word count, or feedback from a colleague – I tend to get bogged down. Instead, I review the constraints, then intentionally set them aside and write. Once I’ve got a good first draft, I test what I’ve written against them, making changes as necessary.

So that’s what works for me. What about you? I would love to hear your ways of channeling what Elizabeth Gilbert calls “your elusive creative genius.”

Stephanie Patterson is a Content Developer at Duarte: a Silicon Valley design firm that specializes in storytelling through presentations.

Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email the editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.


2 Responses to Channeling your Creativity

  1. Christopher says:

    I love the idea of shower crayons! I had not heard of those before, but I use something called ‘AquaNotes’-
    Great post!