Alongside difficulties that can occur for freelance writers, like finding a steady stream of clients and not having an IT department, is beauty in the knowledge that there is complete freedom to work everywhere, all of the time. Is this a gift or a curse? Natalie Smithson considers the pros and cons of a creative mind.
No matter what I’m doing, little elves ferret around my brain. They collect ideas and roll them around, squashing thoughts with a negative vibe and sitting on good ones. Every now and then the elves throw an idea my way that shines brighter than the others; it demands my attention. Here’s something for that article you’re writing…
Like a leaky tap, ideas dribble out until you’re so used to the dripping sound you barely notice it anymore, until a splash of creativity spills over to soak your thoughts. A kind of subconscious multi-tasking, channelling ideas requires no effort whatsoever since a creative mind is permanently hooked up to the ideas generator, whether you like it or not.
The benefit of this is that you can quite literally write anywhere and at any time, so long as you’re awake. If you don’t know any different it becomes a way of life, like a medium who communicates with the dead.
As ghosts of ideas bustle all around, the big moment comes when a thought appears from the shadows that can be worked into something tangible.
As many writers will tell you, a eureka moment can strike at any time. Words can make themselves known when you’re buying apples at the supermarket or in the middle of a sponsored skydive. Indifferent to your schedule, they gatecrash your day and disturb you at night as the gong sounds to announce the arrival of a new idea.
How do we control our ideas?
It’s important to find ways to manage creative channels, otherwise it’s easy to drift away from the task at hand or flit from one gem of an idea to the next without capturing them properly. If these thoughts are not easily accessible and therefore unusable, the result is a lack of productivity and restless frustration.
Finding ways to manage your creative flow is a personal venture, but I find it helpful to set my ideas free. When they flap like a butterfly in a jar, tap tap tapping on the glass, the simple act of releasing them is often enough for them to be still, ready to be considered when the time is right. Here are some ways to capture ideas on the go:
- Carry a notebook. It might seem old fashioned, but when you get a particularly lucid idea the sound of a pen scratching across the page is sometimes the only way to honour it. Revisiting old notebooks can also be a real pleasure, years down the line.
- Use an app on your smartphone. An app like Google Keep or Evernote is a fast way to type out notes and add them to a collection. You can also make voice recordings, which are ideal when you have a muddied trail of thought, but know there’s something in it ready to be unearthed. Listening later on may help you find it.
- Keep a pen handy. Even if you’ve forgotten your notepad and your phone is dead, you can always find an old newspaper, the back of an envelope, or use the back of your hand (I get told off a lot for that) to scrawl a cryptic word or phrase that will remind you of an idea.
- Use memory tricks. For example, you’re in the cinema being subjected to some godforsaken Disney film and realise you forget to mention the cost of a product you’re writing about. To jog your memory when you get home, carry an image of Elsa in your head with dollar signs in her eyes.
Making time to switch off
Streaming live media might be commonplace these days, but when it’s in your own head you need to disconnect every now and again. Being able to pull together an unlimited natural resource of words and images to make a living is a gift, but down time is important:
- Minutes. Mindfulness techniques can help shut out the world for short bursts of time. Close your eyes and draw in a deep breath through your nose. Hold you breath and count to ten, paying close attention to the feeling in your chest. Exhale through your mouth until there’s nothing left and repeat the exercise until your shoulders relax.
- Hours. Give yourself permission to remove yourself completely from your own head. Go for a run, play with the kids, lose yourself in a book, or do whatever it is that shouts louder than the hum of the ideas generator or temporarily stuffs a sock in its mouth.
- Days. It’s time for a holiday. Beach, anyone?
Taking time to care for a creative mind is an important part of maintaining energy levels. Only then is it possible to stay motivated to keep on writing and enjoy the creative process.
How do you manage creative thoughts, especially when they go into overdrive? Share your experience with other writers, so we can all keep hold of good ideas that help us.