Stuck on a Project? Here’s a Little Trick to Generate Fresh Inspiration
Photo courtesy of electricnerve.

Stuck on a Project? Here’s a Little Trick to Generate Fresh Inspiration

Written by Joshua Lundquist

Topics: Creativity, Productivity

I keep coming back to process these days.

I have all these unfinished things on my computer, and half of me wants to push them all out into the world, in some attempt to clean house, and maybe hoping somebody might stumble onto them and like them…

I had written something and didn’t know where to go with it, so I just told myself “Well, that’s pretty good, meh, good enough…”  but NO!

I knew that was bullshit.  I know better than to just toss out my half-finished work.  Why am I in such a damn hurry to put stuff out anyway?

The internet is littered with half-started or half-finished works, and I want to be a person who is trying to make the internet a better place.

So I called up my friend Chris, who does voice acting, and asked him if he’d read a chapter of my writing into a microphone. He sent me the audio file that day and I added a song I liked to it, then listened to it as if it were an episode of This American Life, or an audiobook.

Transposing Your Idea into a New Medium

Pretty quickly I started to notice where the weaknesses in my story were, hearing my writing spoken made the bad parts stand out–the parts where I kind of cringed or felt no reaction at all told me what needed changing in the story itself.

Hearing my writing being spoken this way, like a monologue in a film, made it easier to know what worked.  I probably would never release this recording out into the open, it then became apparent to me.

I felt apologetic for making my friend read my unpolished writing, but he said it was no problem–he liked the practice.  He even had some ideas to make the story better, and since originally I wasn’t coming to him for a critique of my writing, I was able to get an unfiltered, honest opinion out of him.  Had I never approached him, I would have had no clue about how my writing actually sounded.

Let it Be Unfinished

Now I feel like I can come back to that story whenever I want, but the great thing is that I won’t just forget about it.  It won’t fall to the wayside.  I’ve begun it, it’s out there, it’s on my iTunes playlist, so every once in awhile it will randomly float into my ears while I’m riding the train listening on my iphone set to shuffle.

Let the Idea Marinate

Then maybe one day I’ll get a way better idea for how to finish this short story I started, or it will connect with some other project.  Hopefully I’ll get the desire to edit it and make it way better.  By making it an audio file, I made it something that I can serendipitously discover again, as a spark for those times when your mind is idle but also prone to having great ideas.  The fact that it’s unfinished makes it more tempting to me to finish it some day, but since I’ve done this much with it I can set it aside for now.  I am not in a hurry.  Ideas should be allowed to marinate like that.

Of course, if you want to hear a page or two of your writing read by someone, you can always head over to fiverr and have someone read it for five bucks.

Worth it?  I think so.

Just make sure they know how to read it well, and that it’s not too long for their guidelines.  But hey, if it’s a great short story, they might just be willing to read the rest of it for free.

And if it’s a great story, you’ll be able to hear that in the voice of the reader, hopefully by how much they engage in it.  Unless they’re really just a robot or kind of daft.

Why even do this?  It helps you free your idea from the medium, or from habits you fall into with that medium.  It allows you to free associate more so that the idea can find it’s best expression.

Some Ideas to get You Unstuck

If you’re feeling stuck on a project and ready for some new inspiration, try translating it into a new medium. Here are a few ideas:

  • Turn your blog post into a script for a podcast episode (or a script for a video post)
  • Turn your screenplay / film idea into a graphic novel (there are plenty of artists on Fiverr, Dribble, Behance or Deviantart who do graphic or hand drawn work)
  • Turn a diary or autobiographical story into a narrated Ken Burns-style short film (use creative commons images on Flickr to illustrate the story)
  • Turn a piece of digital art into a painting or some physical art (a projector helps for this)
  • Turn a poem into a work of visual art (this works well with visual metaphors, concrete poetry)
  • Turn a video or audio of your conversation with a friend into a blog post (using YouTube’s transcribe function)

Have fun, and good luck!

Your Turn

What projects have you turned into other formats in order to generate new ideas or inspiration, or just to get unstuck?

joshJosh does music, web design and comedy in Tokyo living with his wife and 3 year old daughter. While there is a word for “multipotentiality” in Japanese (Tano), Japan is the land of taking interests and hobbies to extreme levels of specialized knowledge (see “Otaku”). Josh hopes to raise awareness about the “Tano one way or another. You can find Josh online at anincrediblewasteoftime.com and on Twitter @lundquistjoshua.

6 Comments

  1. Josh says:

    Good post Josh. Dabbling in the many different artforms works great for creativity!

  2. Joshua Lundquist says:

    Thanks Josh! I was talking to my friend who does animation about this and he used the term “creative amoeba,” which I like.

  3. Bev Webb says:

    Great post Josh. :) I’ve used this technique when I’ve run workshops. It’s easy for us to develop hang-ups, insecurities and blocks when we’ve been using the same artform for a while. By getting someone to try a new (or very different) artform it bypasses all that baggage.

    Getting painters to use photography, writers to work in 3D, musicians to create installations … we don’t have the same inhibitions or barriers about what’s possible when it’s unfamiliar territory.

    I think too that jumping around between visual, audio and kinesthetic formats provides the opportunity to blaze brand new neural pathways and that helps generate entirely unforseen possibilities . :)

  4. Cayelin says:

    Thanks, Josh! This was a helpful post. Great suggestions.

    I love the multimedia approach, to stimulate creative juices, and yes, I agree, @Bev about how a different media could bring in different neural pathways that could help with inspiring solutions and angles into the projects. I’m also a great believer in having ideas marinate, but it is easy to forget about them. The idea of having them come up randomly in an an iTunes mix is a cool way to do it!

    Interesting, I recently found this post that referred to a concept called “oblique strategies” to get an angle around the block, that may be of interest:

    http://masterdabblers.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/beat-the-block-discovering-oblique-strategies-that-push-you-around-creativitys-hurdles/?utm_source=Master+Dabblers+Newsletter&utm_campaign=c2d9d3e9a3-7_9_13&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_27c54fcf65-c2d9d3e9a3-67151673

  5. Josh says:

    Cayelin

    Yeah, actually a friend of mine showed me this same oblique strategies page awhile ago, originally I thought he’d told me John Cage had written those, but looks like it was Brian Eno! Really good suggestions in there.

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