Where Do Ideas Come From? Stimulating Imagination

Pulp Fiction, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, The Godfather. What do they have in common? They all started with good ideas. They’re imaginative. So how can I stimulate my own imagination? Where do good ideas come from?

Creativity is a muscle and the phrase ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it’ applies. This was at the forefront of my mind as I entered quarantine. I still had a nagging itch to exercise that muscle, although the creative outlets that I would normally make use of were not conducive to a Covid-19 world. I was without productions or artistic classes for University. I needed to shift around my mental gym.

It hit me that writing was the perfect, creative outlet for a socially distanced world. Subsequently, in the early days of quarantine, I found myself writing songs, poems, short films, and of course- this blog. Before I could begin any of those projects, though, I needed ideas. What would the poems be about? What story am I trying to tell in this short film? Ideas are the impetus for creativity. Sometimes they are conscious, other times not, but they are always present at the conception of any creative project. Strong ideas, though, can sometimes feel hard to come by. We’ve all experienced that compulsion to create but have been stopped by the ugly wall of writer’s block. So where do good ideas come from? How can we encourage creative thought? What unintentional actions are we taking that may stifle our artistic well? I wanted to explore that today and possibly come to some conclusions about how we can encourage ideas to spring up from the ground like Texan oil. It revolves around a few choices we make everyday: what we consume, self induced over-stimulation, and our ability to table certain thoughts.

Self Induced Over Stimulation

Judy Blume, the prolific young-adult author, said, “When I see people with their headphones on… I know they’re listening to music or a podcast or something- I think, oh, what a shame because that’s a time where I would get my best ideas.” The quote struck me.

Our best ideas are often born out of boredom, the lack of stimulation. The mind has freedom to wander and explore. Each mindless tap on our Instagram may stave off a base boredom for a moment or two, but it cripples the freedom our mind has to wander. Ideas need space to grow and filling that space with mindless stimuli does our artistic side a great disservice.

I know this may seem counter-intuitive. Who likes to be bored? But that is where our creative side is allowed to thrive. It has space to fill and it’ll rise to the occasion. We do it all the time, as well. I’d be hard pressed to find a single person who hadn’t caught themselves daydreaming at work or during a dull math class. Sometimes it can be productive to embrace boredom, to sit in it, instead of retreat from it like the terrible banshee it appears to be.

Does this mean I have to skip out on my favorite show? I can’t listen to music during my morning walk? Of course you can. Those things have tangible value. However, if we want ideas to grow, we need to give them a little bit of space. Find a time during the day to talk a walk without music. Sit on the porch and observe. Sit in that boredom- you’re brimming with ideas, you just can’t hear them when you’re watching your fifteenth Youtube tutorial in a row.

What We Consume

Close your eyes and try to imagine a color that you’ve never seen.

You can’t, can you? It’s maddening to try but no matter how much you rack your brain, you won’t be able to. That is because our imaginations can’t conjure up ideas that we haven’t already experienced.

But where do new movie plots come from? What about inventors? They’re creating something from nothing, aren’t they?

Well, no. They’re rearranging what they’ve already experienced into something new. The ability to abstractly conceptualize new projects by rearranging what we know is a powerful, uniquely human tool. It works a lot like a construction team building a tower- the bricks being our life experiences. If you want to make a tall tower, you’d want to have as many bricks as possible, right? If so, then you’d want to consume as much of the world around you as you can.

Experiences are the building blocks of creation. Storytellers are also people watchers. They observe. Creators look at content that interests them. Every book you read, TV show you watch, and conversation you have translate into more imaginative bricks. So… experience!

This is why well-roundedness is important. The more experiences you have that are unlike the ones you already know, the wider your creative cache to pull from becomes. Talk with someone who doesn’t think like you, genuinely listen. Not a sports fan? Play a pickup game with some friends. Want to create a really fantastic detective story? You’d better be watching a few detective films.

Over the course of quarantine, I had more time to read. It’s been a blessing. If you’re looking for a good book on creative spontaneity and imagination- I suggest Impro by Kieth Johnstone.

Bad Ideas Maybe Good Later

I grapple with this a lot. I’ll be on a walk and an idea will jump into the forefront of my mind. However, once I try to expand on it, the enthusiasm may die down. Maybe I’m not in a place where I can tell that specific story. Maybe the idea isn’t fully fleshed out. That’s okay! Don’t get rid of it. Write it down. Oftentimes, people have ideas that don’t work in the moment but they save them and employ them later. No idea is inherently a bad idea, it may just not be the right moment. Sit on it, who knows? Maybe it’ll become the next Lord of the Rings.

When do you get your best ideas? Comment your thoughts down below and contribute to the discussion! If you enjoyed the post please follow the blog or give it a like. If you think someone else would enjoy the post, feel free to share it with them or on social media. Make yourself at home and take a look around.

2 Comments on “Where Do Ideas Come From? Stimulating Imagination

  1. If you ever think your ideas are bad, remember the most famous video game series is literally about a plumber who eats mushrooms and jumps on turtles.

    Liked by 1 person

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