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Grabbing It By The Thread: How to Get a Hold of Good Ideas

When You Have Them

Article by Holly Shaw

How often have you had a great idea for a new script, portrait, dance, sculpture, or poem one day only to try to return to it the next and find your miraculous creation has somehow slipped away? Often our initial inspirations can be the path to something brilliant, but if we don't give ourselves landmarks to return to these ideas then the initial desire to fully realize them can disappear. Just as important as generating great ideas is learning how to grab hold of them.  Here are some ways that you can "grab it by the thread" once an idea surfaces:

Work on the parts that you're interested in first. 

I see this all the time with the artists I coach. They have a great idea for something, but then put up road blocks for themselves by insisting they work on the beginning even if it was one particular scene that was thrilling to them.  I always suggest working on the parts that seem to want to come forward first. Even if it doesn't seem to make sense to you, if you trust your natural trail of interest, you will allow the work to unfold in a way often even better than you could have orchestrated.

Record your initial ideas on how it might develop even if they seem "too obvious."

Often our first intuition on a subject can be very insightful.  It is always important to explore beyond these first ideas of course. But sometimes those first intuitions will serve you down the road. Even if they seem obvious or pedantic, write them down. If nothing else, getting it out of your head and onto paper clears the way for more ideas to flow.

Pick a theme song.

Was there a piece of music you were listening to when the inspiration came to you? Is there a song that really "gets" the feeling of what you are working on?  Using a piece of music to get you back to the initial inspiration is extremely effective. For dancers or choreographers already using music, I would suggest creating an entire playlist that includes other music that may capture some aspect or idea you are developing inside the dance. Working with different music other than the final music will also give your choreography greater depth and texture in the end. 

Build bridges for the next time you work on it.

Don't stop creating when you're stuck on a section.  It leaves you in the mindset of being "stuck" when you later think about a project. It is better to stop working when you have a good idea or a brief sketch of what is coming next. Stop there. Stop while you're "ahead." The sense of accomplishment and having an "entry back into" the work is key.

Keep notes on it.

Ok, so writer's are like, "duh." But to them I would suggest making a movement for it (see Embodiement Practice Below).  But for dancers or painters or anyone else not writing, it is helpful to put down your ideas in a different modality. So, jot down notes about movements, the feeling, the idea, the desired outcome, whatever it is that caught your attention and made you want to embark on this particular project. Even if you don't look at the notes again there is some sense of security in "getting it down". 

Title your work.

Even if it doesn't end up being the actual title of the piece, giving your work a few key words that describe the feeling or purpose of the piece. This can be crucial to remembering the feeling of it. Another reason a title serves you is that it triggers your mind to take it seriously.  What was previously was just a "funny scene" is now  full-fledged piece.  When you take on your work with integrity, then ideas will show up more readily.

As you continue to come back to your project you will want it to develop, change, and grow. You want your initial idea to expand to include more things, more dimension, more depth.  But by giving yourself a roadmap or a "thread" to pull on, you'll be able to hang onto the magic of the initial inspiration that got you working on it in the first place.

And lastly, it is important to remember that nothing is ever really lost.  If there is an idea that you feel slip from you, it is often something that will reveal itself again much later on, often in a more developed and precise form.  Part of the sanity of The Thrivng Artist comes from allowing things to unfold on their own time, when they are ready, and trusting it will always work in your favor to be at peace with the process. 


Embodiment Practice

When you receive that first initial excitement about an idea ground it in your body right away.  Take a moment to close your eyes, breathe, and ask yourself where this idea might "live" inside of you. What specific body part wants to move when you think about this idea? Maybe it gets your toes tapping or your head swaying. Whatever it is write it down as part of your road map back to working on the idea. Dancers: Be as specific as possible. Exactly how is your head swaying side to side? Using your whole upper torso, or just your neck? Is it like a sapling in the soft breeze, or a flag flapping in a quick wind? Your work is of the body, so nuance is most important to recapture the initial feeling of the movement.

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