Capturing Your Creative Ideas

You often find writers using a quote to start off a book chapter or an article. Most times those quotes are like background noise. It’s there but you don’t notice it. But every now and then it grabs your attention. That’s what got me to take a look at this UXmatters article titled “a practical guide to capturing creativity“. It began with a good quote from Linus Pauling that I’d never come across before: The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas. Make sense. Librarians are creative folks. I don’t doubt we all have many ideas. The problem is capturing them and then developing the one that has the most potential.

The main problem, according to author Jonathan Follett, is that creative ideas jump into our minds when we are least ready to capture them. He writes:

When the creative moment strikes, we need to be ready for it with ways to save, preserve, and ultimately use our invaluable ideas, notes, and sketches, so they can contribute to the success of great digital products. Such ideas don’t always come to us in the office environment. I find, generally, that there are far too many distractions in my own studio. In our over-stimulated modern world, with thousands of messages competing for our attention and bandwidth, it’s no wonder creative professionals require time away from their desks and computers to generate new ideas.

The often cited example is the shower idea. There is a well recognized phenomenon that people tend to get ideas or creative bursts of genius in the shower. Why is that? No one knows for sure but one suggestion is that the brain needs to be free of the constant ongoing details that flood each moment. But when the mind is unchained from all those details it can pull together the many disparate puzzle pieces that go into a creative idea. The shower seems to be a particularly good place for that to happen. Follett’s focus is on how you go about capturing the idea when it comes, as it so often will disappear if allowed to drift off. You know how it works. You say to yourself “that’s a great idea and I’ll make a note of it after breakfast”. Then after breakfast you are asking yourself what that idea was you had in the shower. Don’t let it happen to you.

So what do you do? You’ll find some good ideas in this article. Follett’s advice is to keep it simple. He emphasizes the use of easily carried notebooks for jotting down ideas. He has a preference for the Moleskine notebook. I carry a Daytimer and keep it stocked with plenty of notepaper at all times. Even though I carry a smartphone I just find it easier to jot down ideas on paper with pencil – and it’s easier to sketch an idea, another reason Follett likes notebooks. What about the shower? Follett shares information about a notebook and pen designed for writing in the wettest conditions. Try using your smartphone in the shower.

Follett doesn’t ignore higher tech methods for capturing ideas. Voice recorders are an obvious device for this task. I’ve experimented a bit with the voice recorder on my smartphone. It works well enough. The problem is that I forget to use it, and there are times when I wouldn’t want to – such as when I get an idea on the commuter train. You could acquire a specialized voice recorder if that’s your preference. He even mentions using Google Voice to record ideas from a cell phone. Why not just leave a message with your idea on your work voicemail? The advantage of Google Voice is that it transcribes the message so you have a written version, but Follett found that it didn’t always work that well. Still, you may want to experiment with Voice. And if voicemail isn’t high-tech enough for you, consider using a hand held video camera to record yourself describing your creative ideas.

Are librarians creative professionals? It’s certainly not a characteristic associated with the traditional stereotype. How much creativity does shushing people and stamping book cards require? But we know that librarians are indeed a creative bunch. Need examples? Consider the spring 2008 issue of Urban Library Journal that profiled creative librarians and their creative library projects and approaches to service. Capturing one’s creative ideas is a good start, and a good way to make sure that we all have lots of ideas on hand. After all, that does seem like the best way to discover that one really good idea that could make a difference.

Author: StevenB

Steven Bell is currently Associate University Librarian for Research and Instructional Services at Temple University, and was previously Director of the Library at Philadelphia University. Steven is the author of two regular columns published by Library Journal, From the Bell Tower and Leading From the Library. With John Shank he is co-founder of the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community. Bell and Shank are also authors of the book Academic Librarianship by Design. Bell's latest book is Crucible Moments: Inspiring Library Leadership. More information is found at his website.

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