This is about the stages of idea generation that I’ve observed for decades in my own work. I didn’t know this was what was going on for a long, long time, but I kept watching it, studying the nuances. Then, as I read more about what other creatives such as writers, musicians, theorists, mathematicians, scientists, and engineers were experiencing, I saw patterns emerge from my own struggles.
The beginning stages of an idea. All ideas are based on previous ideas. Thoughts are tagged to each other in a sequence. Sort of a chicken-or-egg endeavor, but basically ideas form from the idea before it. Thoughts are rarely isolated. One thought leads to another. Sometimes, we feel lucky. Something pops into mind immediately.
I had a call from a magazine once and within ten seconds of hearing the story, I had the right image. But it was an image I had in the back of my mind... for ten years.
Looking for clues. Taking your passion and pushing it. Usually at this stage we encounter the same thought pattern, working with the first thing that comes to mind. But the first thing is generally not the best, unless you can simplify it, or it came from an idea you had long ago and your brain is still hashing it out.
Just like that idea I had simmering for ten years.
Piecing it together. Building on the idea. Things are starting to gel. Disparate images are merging, but it’s not there yet. Reject the obvious. Good time to smash conflicting ideas together: concrete cellophane, twisted smoothness, barbarous laughter, silent euphoria, etc. This stimulates the brain to get curious and try things. That’s where we find answers...
At this stage: concentrate!
But still nothing works. Nothing looks right. Nothing makes sense yet. The image is fuzzy, or worse, it’s boring. You try and try, but still nothing. Failure after failure. You force the issue. It doesn’t come together in your head or on paper. Frustration sets in. Avoidance. Depression.
Keep going....it’s part of the process. In fact, you MUST push through this stage or nothing gets finished.
But you can’t keep going. Ya got nothin’. You’re losing interest. So you stall. Your mind flat-lines. First thing: go for a walk. Several studies now on the effect of the right-left movement of your legs on your brain's right-left hemispheres. Better yet: sleep on it. Don’t look for it. Let it simmer. Your head is still working in the background. Relax. Distract. Play. Do something completely different, off the wall. Meet friends, have fun. It needs some time. Daydream!
When you least expect it, and I mean least: a spark....a thought appears. While you’re engaged with something else, a simple, tiny connection occurs. The embers reignite. They start to smoke. Wait a minute--what was that? Write it down. Do a sketch. It’s coming. Hold it---insight is occurring....something you hadn’t thought of, or something you did think of but just not quite like this, not quite this way. Curiosity returns. The brain lights up in areas across the hemispheres, pulling info from every sector. Smells, feelings, sounds. The piston chemistry starts firing. One thought leads quickly to another, faster this time, faster than you can hold on to. Where’s that pencil?
Usually known as the ‘Aha Moment’ of insight, it sometimes occurs fully formed--but only after much concentration, then relaxation.
You see something, know something now. You have to get it down! Drawing, drawing....wait--not like that.....like this! Breakthroughs occur here. Your brain recommits to the challenge. When it does, success is not far away.
Cover illustration for Kilkenny, by Louis L'Amour