Are you frightened of a blank piece of paper? Do you sit there thinking “I’m not a creative type”? Do new ideas stay stubbornly hidden when you need them most?
That’s how I used to feel.
I used to think that only a few lucky people were born creative, and that I wasn’t one of them.
Now I think I am creative.
I think you can be creative too. You just need to develop some good habits.
So, here’s one of my habits, involving three notebooks and a large table.
(Before you ask, you can’t do this on a computer, never mind a mobile phone. So no, there isn’t an app for this)
Head off down to your favourite stationary store (or a decent pound-store) and buy yourself:
Notebook One: A2 size or as big as you can fit on your table.
Notebook Two: A4 size.
Notebook Three: A6 size, as small as a passport or mobile phone.
And here’s how you use them.
Notebook 1 is for mind maps, spider-graphs, doodles and clumps of words that should go together. This helps you plan out a piece of work, or just get ideas down in a rough sort of pattern. Notebook 1 is how your brain works: a mixed bunch of ideas, loosely connected.
Notebook 2 is for a habit I learned from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. If ever you’re stuck, or just mentally restless, do this. Sit down and write three pages of A4. Just write. It doesn’t matter what, just keep going. It can be what’s on your mind right now, what’s going on outside, what happened today. It can be as simple as “I can hear Mum making tea in the kitchen.” If you’ve spent hours staring at a screen and your brain feels stale, do this now.
It will take you about 40 minutes to write three A4 pages. After five minutes, the nagging feeling of doubt (“Help, I can’t think of anything!”) fades away. Ten minutes in, more ideas are popping into my head than I can write down. Ideas are tumbling over each other in a stream. Sometimes a good idea or something urgent will pop up. And that’s when I switch to…
Notebook 3, which is sitting right beside me. I quickly jot down the idea and then switch back to finish my three pages on Notebook 2. At the end of 40 minutes, I will have two or three ideas in Notebook 3. This is also the book you carry round with you for the ideas that come to you during your day.
Finally, you take Notebook 3 to bed last thing at night. Before you settle down to sleep, make a note of three or four ideas you’ve had that day. Again, it doesn’t matter if they’re ground-breaking, set-the-world-on-fire ideas, just that they were yours. What you’re doing is training your brain to notice your own creativity. The more you’re aware of having new ideas, the more you’ll realise you ARE creative.
I’ll be honest, I don’t use three notebooks every day. But I feel better every time I do.
CAUTIONARY NOTE: don’t leave Notebook 2 lying around for all to see. If you want your stream of ideas to flow, you have to just write what comes to mind. You MUST NOT write Notebook 2 thinking that someone else might read it, as this will shut your ideas down and make them safe.
CREDIT: thanks to Zainab Khan for letting me test out the three notebook method.
NB: I also used Notebook 1 to block out chapters of my book before I started writing. I borrowed that idea from Hollywood scriptwriter Blake Snyder.