Notes on where ideas come from part 2, – focus

I’m posting this on Thursday this week, instead of Friday, where in the US it is Thanksgiving. So happy Thanksgiving to the US folks. For those readers who like notebooks, check out the picture of this notebook that my wife got me as part of my birthday gift last week. It has the brainsplats blog on it. I thought it was a good idea. Now it just needs notes in it. More on that below.

Its the blog notebook 🙂

Where ideas come from is interesting to me right now, as I have more time for ideas, and more ideas, then time to deal with the ideas themselves. Often in the past it has been the reverse. I could sit down to write, but not be sure what to get on with, or what to write about. I would hope inspiration would strike. Now the ideas are flowing which I believe is for several reasons. The first that I used to write this blog daily, so my mind is kind of in the routine still of regular ideas for blog posts, especially now I am only averaging two posts a week. The other is that with restricted time, I use a spare 5 or 10 minutes for something constructive. Forcing myself into a time limit exercise, somehow stops my mind wandering and instead has focus, in turn opening up ideas. Take these three scenarios:
  1.  I’ve mentioned before, my wife and I take it in turns on alternating nights to read books  to my son, and put him to bed. He used to be slightly fussy getting to sleep, because of his age, so we would hang round in his room for a little while whilst he settled down. I would use this time, lets say 10 minutes, or a little longer, to think about story ideas, that I would then note down after I left the room. One time I had an idea for a short story collection with a common theme. I thought about different story ideas, using this time, over a month, and now I have notes enough for a whole book. When I write the stories of course. This time worked well. Now though, my son is settling down a lot quicker, so I am out of there a lot quicker. Perhaps I still need to find this 10 minutes elsewhere.
  2. Slightly related to this point is choosing a spare five minutes during the day. Just find a quiet place. Decide whether to write down blog ideas, perhaps of a certain kind, for me like “Monday Mess”, or something else such as story ideas. Just put down what you can, and only for the five minutes. Again the focus is interesting and I seem to be able to get things down. Not all of it useful, but most of it is. Maybe ideas are floating round my head waiting for the focus opportunity, I don’t know, but either way it seems to work.
  3. I sometimes do 100 word fiction, such as “Jack and the beanstalk revised“, where I will get a prompt about something, maybe an idea I’ve been thinking a little about, may not. Then I will take a max of thirty minutes to write something in the word limit, with no revision allowed after the time limit. Sometimes I may have an idea of what I am wanting to write about in terms of the actual mini story, other times no idea. But the time limit brings focus and I can normally get something out, which is coherent and sometimes interesting. It is as though, with the time limit, I can find an angle or a way to investigate

So I suppose what I am getting at here is that ideas freely float round our heads. Especially those of us who consider ourselves creative in some way. Getting the ideas out and turning them into something can be difficult. A little focus for a short period of time, can actually go a long way. Maybe I can add some of these notes in my new notebook.

What focus exercises do you do, if any, to work on ideas?

Lexicon word of the day: ethnography.


13 comments on “Notes on where ideas come from part 2, – focus

  1. DyingNote says:

    Not sure if this counts as focus exercise but I used to sit with notebook, pen, ipod, noise-reduction headphones and beer at the local microbrewery. Ideas would flow with the music and the beer 🙂 These days, ideas come on my short walk from home to office or back. But the richest source of idea prompts for me comes from conversations – those that I’m part of or others that I overhear. Quite a few of these turn into t-shirt ideas for my new venture.

    BTW, that’s one cool notebook. I’m a sucker for stationery. I love the look and feel of freestyle writing, of pen and paper

    • Elliot says:

      It is a way of focusing. I would often sit with some music on, picking up lines here and there to use as prompts for poems and what not. Sometimes you just need a trigger to get your mind working and then you set off from there. Conversations are also useful. To me it is all prompts. They give you a starting point to do something with it, and a starting point might be all that is needed sometimes.

      The notebook is pretty good isn’t it? I almost don’t want to write in it.

      • DyingNote says:

        If I had a notebook like that, I might not want to either. But when I look back at the notepads that I scribbled on, I feel quite happy. So go ahead!

  2. In my own case I have thought about this topic a great deal. When I need to create some new cartoons I’d say about a fourth of the time I actually sit down to think. I start with a theme. Inanimate object like a mountain or stone, an animate object like a plant or fish, humans like a carpenter or fireman or an activity like cooking. Those are the four areas in which I think for cartoon ideas. Another way though is to think in history or literature for ideas. Puns and cliches are also fertile fields from which to harvest ideas. But most of the time something just enters my head out of nowhere as if some outside source is feeding me. I make a sketch, second refined draft and then trace over for finished cartoon. Sometimes a joke comes to mind and I draw a sketch to fit it and other times an image comes to mind and I create a joke to fit the image. I laugh at my own productions not in the sense of an eccentric old uncle that laughs at his own jokes but it is as though some outside source is entertaining me and wonder if I should sign the cartoon claiming it as my own thought. It all seems a very mysterious process. There is active thinking but is there such a thing as passive thinking for so often I feel I am the receptor of ideas rather than the creator ?

    • Elliot says:

      I often wonder myself where the ideas come from. It is one thing sitting down for 5 or 10 minutes to focus, but another having something coming out with it. Some of it is a conscious process, choosing an area or thing much like you do. I might think of a few related things to get it going. But it also seems an unconscious process as it starts to flow, and things get filtered through. It is a similar process when I return to an idea to develop it more. Very strange, and interesting at the same time.

      Thanks for sharing Carl, it is really interesting to get some of your thought process.

  3. Carrie Rubin says:

    I really don’t do any, I guess. Something comes to me, and I quickly go jot it down on a sticky note so I don’t forget it. 🙂

    • Elliot says:

      I would do that as well, but when I’m busy, I have to find another way, and it seems that doing these things seems to help. Although if a decent idea appears, it is best to try note it down wherever you are.

  4. jmmcdowell says:

    It’s not how I traditionally get my ideas, but I see something similar happening with my Meghan stories on the blog. Because I have a “deadline” of getting each post done for the next week, it really focuses my attention on writing that particular scene early enough to have a couple of days to give it a rough edit. I find I get the draft Meghan scenes written much more quickly than those in my novels.

    • Elliot says:

      I’m thinking that seemingly having more time is not always a good thing. A deadline of some kind does bring focus, probably less time wasting and more relevant time “on the job”. It is interesting that the ideas come this way, but it is difficult to apply this on a larger project, especially when it feels like we have all the time we need to complete it i.e. “when it is ready”. Maybe we ought to be thinking along the lines of, I must get this done by X time or date.

  5. legionwriter says:

    I wish I could keep up with the ideas lately. The rare moments I have to sit down and focus, it’s a chore to decide which idea to tackle. I seem to get a ton of story concepts while driving to work.

    • Elliot says:

      Me too really. In a way I could do with a long blog holiday and just concentrate on some other projects, but I suspect I would not be able to do that right now. The blog at least keeps me writing something right now. Too many ideas and no time to do much with them.

  6. Your wife is very cool. Great notebook!! I have a notebook that I scribble ideas in too. But a lot of times good ideas will pop into my head right before I’m about to fall asleep, and even though I have a notebook by my bed, I usually fall asleep before I manage to get out my pen and write it them down. And then they’re usually lost to the ages.

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