One of the main questions I (and just about every other writer/artist/creative type) has been asked is “Where do you get your ideas?” I’ve always liked the answer given by Wendy and Richard Pini of Elfquest fame–that they had a six-pack delivered to their doorstep every morning from Ploughkeepsie.
Most of the advice you’ll hear tends to be along the lines of “Ideas are all around you; just keep your eyes open.” While this is true, it’s about as helpful as the advice that to be a success you need to “get more creative.” Get more creative. Great! Why didn’t I think of that?
If you’re like me, your creativity comes in waves. Some days, idea after idea just seems to tumble into my brain, so fast that I can barely keep up with the pace. Other times, I sit down to write or even plan my next game session and … pft. Nothing. Dry as a bone. At those times, I turn to a tool I’ve been using for almost 20 years now … my idea file.
For me, the idea file is an index card box with one idea per card. When an idea hits me, especially if I can’t act on it right now, I write it down on a card and stick it in the box. I usually carry a few cards with me to catch ideas when I’m away from my desk. At the very least, I keep small notebooks and a few pens with me (one set in my purse, one in my game bag–which also subs as a portable office–one in my car) so I can capture an idea before I lose it. Then, when I get home, I transfer those ideas to cards (one idea per card) and stick them in my box.
My box has no order. I’ll often label the idea card with a loose category, such as “adventure idea”, “magazine article”, “blog post”. Not too specific, since that can kill creativity, but enough so that when I look back on it later, can job my memory as what I thinking. I’ve also found it helpful to write a sentence or two about the idea, if that comes to me. The exact nature of the file really doesn’t matter. As long as it works for you and you can find your ideas, it could be anything from a notebook to a computer file. I use index cards because I’m a very tactile person and I like having something I can physically handle.
Then, when the inevitable creative dry spell comes, I can pull an idea out of the box. I like my box because I can pull an idea out at random, or I can look through the cards and find something that inspires me.
When the ideas just don’t come, it’s important to remember that creative dry spells are a part of the natural process. Just because you don’t have any ideas today, doesn’t mean you won’t tomorrow. But when deadlines are coming (whether that’s a article deadline or your next game session) and ideas aren’t, it helps to have something you can pull out of the box to get you along.