In the span of 18 months (1665-66), Isaac Newton invented calculus, constructed a theory of optics, explained how gravity works and discovered his law of motion.
You gotta clear away a lot of life to find a creative signal that strong. Unfortunately most of us have other things to do. I don’t know about Newton, but in between my creative moments I have to match socks and stuff.
How do you keep the creative juices flowing in the everyday?
Creativity isn’t sui generis pixie dust that falls from the ether on a lucky few. A lot of us have ideas. The problem is learning to clear enough of life away to capture, remember, and use them.
I developed a new workflow during the writing of my latest book, which is my tenth. The previous nine were fine, but this one – which is about creativity – is substantially better, in large part because of what I learned about the creative process while writing it.
The big thing is that I’ve always had a mental hum – a recurring flow of random thoughts and ideas in my head. These five tools helped me to learn how to capture this hum, which has exponentially increased my creative output.
The results have been personally astonishing. I used to struggle with ideas for blog posts; now I have over 100 unfinished concepts, from seed ideas to fully drafted ideas, ready to polish and publish. And they keep piling up faster than I can write them. (Now that I have a better workflow, it makes me sad for the all of the creative ideas that might have been.)
If you want to launch your creativity, these are 5 must-have tools.
My creative process always begins with Input. Other people’s work is inspiration, and you can never have enough sources. The goal here is to find a good way to curate the web to your tastes. I use Feedly to collect and curate several dozen websites so I can wade through lots of articles quickly.
Feedly attaches to your Google account. If you have a favorite website you follow (here is one of my favorites) then just enter the domain at the “Add Content” button and it will file it away. Then, I access my account with the Feedly iOS app and – boom – instead of playing Candy Birds or whatever, I am filling the holes in my day with something helpful.
There are plenty of competitors, too, such as Flipboard. It’s just that Feedly is my favorite.
2. Moleskine Journal
Okay, now we’re going old school. Several years ago I made a conscious decision to begin carrying around a Moleskine journal. Some people thought I was losing my digital edge. I had to train myself to carry it and use it. The reason is this:
It used to be that an idea would enter the roustabout in my head and then exit out the other side while I was busy congratulating myself on it. Now I have learned if something interesting shows up, WRITE IT DOWN, good, bad, weird, random, or awesome.
Several of my previous works started with a crazy pile of post-its, ripped paper scraps and napkins. (Kind of like another author I know.) How much better to capture everything to a single location!
I put everything in it, including reflections on books and magazines I’m reading, personal entries, what I call the “big ideas,” sermon notes, and so on. When a journal fills up, I create an index for the front so I can easily find information in the 240-page book.
3. Voice Dictation in iPhone’s Pages
It just so happens that some of my best creative time happens during the afternoon commute. As I process the day, a new thought comes to mind. The Moleskine isn’t great for driving. (Although sometimes Atlanta traffic moves so slow I could write this blog post while at a dead stop.) While previously these thoughts were goners, the voice dictation feature allows me to open up a new Pages document and start talking.
Pages is Apple’s word processor. The dictation feature capture 90% of what I am saying – usually enough to dicepher later while seated at my desk. It even converts the words “question mark” to an actual question mark.
One of Pages’ best features is iCloud synchronization. With my latest book, as I moved into the development phase of the writing process, turning fragments into chapters, I worked on the same document from a variety of locations, including my laptop, my iPad, my iPhone, and a web browser. This encouraged multiple reads and edits, so my chapters ended up a lot more vetted than they would have been.
This cloud-based collector is where I send my half-baked ideas for organization. Evernote holds text, audio, website links, and images.
After filling a couple of the Moleskine journals I moved in to Evernote. I didn’t transcribe everything, though; rather, I took images of my journal pages and uploaded them. Here is where the book really began to take off, because as I created folders and assigned keywords for like-minded ideas, I began to see patterns in seemingly random musings.
You can write directly in Evernote but it’s a little limited, like writing in a simple text editor, so I prefer it for its filing power and ability to help me find structure in my thoughts.
5. This Blog
Even better, improve your creative process by creating a deadline for yourself!
This blog is a beast – it needs constant feeding. But beyond the publishing pressure, its major benefit is the need to distill concepts into short (600-1000 word), bite size chunks for easy web digestion. The old Steinbeck aphorism that if you can’t say something in one sentence, thousands won’t do, applies here – I have found that the tight word limits of a blog post force me to greater clarity.
These tools help clear away the interruptions of life and allow me to focus on a creative process for greater productivity. They work for me in writing but can work for anyone who has to develop an idea. What are your favorite tools?
Want more tips on how to enhance your creativity? Buy my book on reclaiming your creative wonder: Think Like a Five Year Old.
This is a new version of a previous post on lenwilson.us and can be found at lenwilson.us/5-tools-creativity