It’s been a bit since I did a creativity exercise, and I was cleaning off the kitchen table today when I got an inspiration. Most writers when asked will say ideas are all around us every day. The difficulty isn’t finding them but choosing which one is worth the effort.
Well, today we’re going idea hunting.
Join in. It’ll be fun. The ideas can be for anything: stories, poems, drawings, quilts…even cooking if that’s what inspiration offers you. This exercise is about training your creative eye to see and your creative ear to listen when your eye does see.
People buy fancy idea cards to sort through while discarding objects that will work with your muse instead of guiding it down the card-maker’s path. The more structured the inspiration prompt, the less freedom you have to listen to your muse.
As a simple example, when I use prompt generators, I prefer the ones that are a vague description of a character with one focused element. Hair like chocolate, skin the color of bat guano, or clothes fashionable only 100 years ago. A snippet gives room to fly where the more complicated ones give me a grocery list to cram into my visit to an art store.
I’m going to show you how to use random objects for a broad prompt without limits.
Okay, get ready to open your mind to creativity!
You know those little packets of advertisement cards you find on the driveway? Or the envelopes full of ad flyers? Or even your spam folder? A magazine can do in a pinch.
I want you to find something that matches the above description. Loose is best and a mix of words and pictures, but work with what is around you every day. Often these types of things are dismissed, recycled, or ignored until the kid needs pictures for a collage or you need packing material, but their hidden value just might be overlooked.
Find or clear off some table space and set down your collection of advertisements (modify as necessary if spam email is your only source). Depending on the type, you’ll see realtors encouraging you to sell, handy kitchen gadgets, local restaurants, and entertainment options among other things.
Don’t think too hard as you flip through the collection.
If something catches your eye, put it to one side.
When you’re done, recycle the ones you had no connection with until only those that caught your attention remain.
Flip through them again, but this time jot down what stands out on a piece of paper (or a tablet/computer).
Whether words, an image, a product, or an advertising blurb, these elements are what your muse wants to play with. These are your prompt, and the core of your idea.
There are no hard and fast rules. You can add words, push them into your favorite genre, or use their antonyms if that’s what draws you. Something about those elements stood out. Allow your muse to play with the new toys and give you something worth working on.
Sometimes this is obvious from the first moment, though I hope you remembered the “Don’t think too hard” and didn’t push the idea. Sometimes taking a walk, doing some laundry, or listening to music will pull it together. It may not come clear for a couple days even.
Don’t stress about it. This is not work. This is play. This is learning to see through your muse’s eye, learning to listen to what your muse is telling you. Something drove those choices, whether you know what that something is or not.
And ultimately, if it didn’t work the first time, the one thing that’s pretty much guaranteed is you’ll end up with another collection of advertisements, coupons, a magazine, or the unending flow of spam to your inbox. If you don’t get the hang of it at first, be willing to give it another shot. Maybe you pushed the idea and forced the choices because you weren’t sure how it would work? Maybe the pieces will come together at 2am three weeks from now, or maybe your muse is trying to tell you something you’re not ready to hear.
If nothing else, let this help you learn to listen. That marvelous idea is right around the corner, and inspiration is everywhere, even in junk mail.
If you did come up with something, I’d love a note in the comments or my contact form just to know how it worked for you. You don’t have to share the idea if you don’t want to, but tell me what type of project the idea inspires.
I’ll post what I come up with in the comments from the slightly fuzzy picture I included above, but what catches my eye every time I glance at the collection is:
Brain, Values, Smartpen, Glare, and Car. The image of the mop mitt, something about the short tendrils around a circle, and the person locked within a tiny box with only the head visible are also draws.
I’m guessing an SF short story. Unlikely to be a quilt, but you never know. And I’m not planning to eat brains anytime soon, so not cooking for me, but my very first zombie story might be in the mix.
What about you?