Running Out of Ideas?

Everyone is a genius at least once a year; a real genius just has his original ideas closer together.” – G.C. Lichtenberg

Has your creative project come to a screeching halt? Are you staring at your computer and the words won’t come?

Rest assured, there is a way to get your ideas a little closer together.

I love to generate ideas. There are many times when my mind’s on fire and it’s a joy to have my fingers flying on the computer keys, trying to keep up with the flow of thoughts pouring out of my head.

It was a surprise then, when working on my book Tongue Fu! for School, that the flow of ideas dried up and writing became hard work. I was grinding it out because I had to turn my manuscript in to my publisher at the end of the month, but I wasn’t liking what I was producing.

I would re-read what I had written (I know, a fatal error) and would go “Yuck.” I knew it didn’t sing, knew it wasn’t “alive,” but I kept slogging it out because I had a deadline to meet.

I was creatively procrastinating one morning (reading the newspaper instead of writing) when I came across a fascinating article in USA Today about David Kelley, Hollywood’s former “Golden Boy.”

The article pointed out that, for a while, writer/director Kelley could do no wrong. He was the first person to receive an Emmy for Best Comedy (Ally McBeal) and Best Drama (The Practice) in the same year. Incredibly, Kelley was writing and directing BOTH shows at the same time – a grueling, almost unimaginable feat.

Then, for some reason, his pilots weren’t getting picked up and his shows started tanking in the ratings. The reporter’s opinion was that his plots were becoming increasingly bizarre and viewers were having a hard time relating to the unrealistic story lines.

A TV critic postulated why, “He’s lost his common touch. He lives in a 15 million dollar home, he’s married to Michelle Pheiffer and all he does, 24/7, is write, drive to the studio and direct and drive home. He’s become disconnected.”

A light bulb went off in my head. Here I was trying to talk about what it was like to deal with difficult people in schools – and I wasn’t spending any time in schools. I had lost touch with my audience and idea-generation had become an intellectual exercise. I was trying to “think up” my material instead of accessing my target audience and asking what THEY thought, what THEY wanted to learn, what THEY encountered on a daily basis.

I got up from my chair, drove to my sons’ school, and interviewed teachers, the principal, a guidance counselor, and a few of Tom and Andrew’s friends. By the end of that day, my mind was filled with the trials, tribulations, triumphs and mixed feelings of pride and powerlessness that are a fact of life for many educators and students.

I sat down to the computer that night and the incredibly compelling stories I had heard poured out. One afternoon of re-connecting with my intended audience renewed my passion for my project and brought it alive – because I had gotten out of my head and into the world of my target audience.

If your creative project is DOA; perhaps you’ve allowed it to become an intellectual exercise. Maybe you’re grinding it out because you’ve got a deadline and you’ve become completely detached from your topic, audience, and purpose.

That doesn’t work because that’s isolated creativity. That’s simply purging what’s in your head – without intent. If your intent is simply to finish your project, you can accomplish that – but that won’t make it sing. You will have a completed book, but, chances are, it will be lifeless and working on it will be joyless.

For creative work to become transcendent, we must have a clear intention of how it will deliver tangible value for people. We need to visualize individuals in our target audience and imagine how this project or program will solve a problem they’re facing. We need to get up from our chairs and go out into the field and talk with our intended audience and ask what they think. Find out what keeps them up at night and then go back to work with their voices and issues in your mind so your project, program or product reflects and meets their needs.

Email us at info@SamHorn.com with “IDEA Book” in your subject heading and we’ll send a discount coupon to be used towards my recently completed IDEA Book that features 25 Ways to Monetize Your Mind.

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