Inspiration – How to Cultivate Creative Ideas

A lot of people talk about inspiration like it’s some magical, elusive thing – something we must be lucky enough to have bestowed upon us. They talk about talent like it’s the only feasible explanation for why certain people excel at an artistic discipline. It couldn’t have anything to do with hard work…

No, definitely not…

In my experience, being an artist is a LOT of hard work. But it is also messy and a bit chaotic. Just as painters might get covered in splatters of colour, you could say writers get covered in splatters of random words, ideas, and images.

But, it’s easy to use “lack of inspiration” as an excuse for not having the courage to dive into that chaos – the chaos of your own creativity. But I have never liked the idea that my creativity is dependent on some external force or some fickle muse. Instead, I take inspiration from anything I can: chance interactions with strangers, interesting sights both manmade and natural, the weird questions we ask ourselves during the day, etc.

Sometimes one moment will spark an idea, other times it takes years and several different inputs to feed into one thought. But in a way, I’m always searching for interesting things in my life. And I’m always trying to wonder what else is possible.

Look at My Pretty Idea Journal

Several years ago (eek almost 15 years? That can’t be right!) I found this pretty notebook when I was travelling with my mom. I remember trying to convince myself I didn’t really need to buy the silly journal. It was an unnecessary expense and it was just a notebook, after all…

But… but…

It was the perfect size! And it had a fun design that made it look old-timey and a bit magical.

Fortunately, despite me trying to pretend otherwise, I think my mom could tell I really wanted it, so she bought it for me (thank you momma!).

Since that day, I have carried this journal almost everywhere I go. I use it exclusively as an idea journal (i.e., no to-do lists or work notes). Any time I have a random thought relating to a creative project, I immediately jot it down in the book. And personally, I feel like the messier the journal is, the better. The chaos of creativity, and all that. So, I scribble random thoughts in the margins and draw arrows connecting thoughts across the page.

I also believe that writing with a pen on paper is satisfying and restorative. My dad bought me a Cross pen for my birthday one year (just a basic ballpoint, nothing crazy). It has a good balance and it feels nice on the page. So, now I only use that pen to write in my journal. It’s a fun little ritual.

But it doesn’t matter what kind of idea journal you have. It could be the notes app on your phone, or a bunch of scrap papers held together with a paperclip. All that matters is that you have someplace to put your ideas, someplace that works for you.

I do like the permanence of a notebook, though. That way I never accidentally delete an idea, or overwrite one on a whim, only to regret it later. I also think there’s something liberating about the pen to paper process. And I like holding the physical book full of all my precious treasures and secrety secrets.

Revisit Your Ideas and Don’t Rush Inspiration

Sometimes, after I jot down an idea, I don’t have anything more to add right away. Other times, I start writing and then more ideas flow one on top of the other and I can fill a whole page with character descriptions, world building, and questions about plot.

Inevitably the momentum will slow down though, and I’ll close the book and let everything simmer for a while. Sometimes only a few hours or days. Sometimes weeks or years.

But, every once in a while, I pick up the book and leaf through it, re-reading all my random notes. And I get a nice little endorphin rush seeing how many fun ideas I have, waiting for me to come play with them.

And that’s what they do – they wait. They lurk in the back of my mind, percolating until one day I have room for them to spring forth and claim my attention.

The Relics of Illayan, for example, was sparked by one completely random and goofy thought I had nearly 15 years ago (seriously? 15 again?). I pictured a fancy medieval goblet filled with a glowing potion. That potion had the texture and colour of molten gold.

And then I thought “heh… cool.”

I know, right? Seriously intellectual work going on here.

But that’s it. That’s how the entire story began. And if you’ve read the trilogy, you know that this golden potion is not exactly the main focal point. So, you see, it doesn’t really matter how small, random, nonsensical or downright dumb your idea is. It just has to plant a seed in your brain. Then it’s up to you to decide how, when, or if you want to tend that seed and cultivate your inspiration out of it.