I Don’t Need Help Coming Up With Ideas—I Need To Know Which To Go After Next

What you’ll need: notebook, pen and Wild Heart flowchart (below)

I recently taught a creativity workshop to a group of writers and artists who were struggling to get started on their Next Big Thing. The classes had been broken into three sessions: ideas, structure and work-life balance. Out of all three, the ideas session had the fewest participants, despite the S.O.S. call from several creatives for help kickstarting their art. When I brought this up to the group, one woman replied, “It’s not that I don’t have ideas. I just can’t seem to make the leap from lots of ideas to following through with just one.”

Enter the creative person’s endless struggle: too many ideas and not enough days in a lifetime to get after them all.

So, how do you choose? How do we organize our thoughts and dreams so that we know which one to pursue next, which one will fill our creative well and which will take us even closer to our goals? Whether you’re rolling in ideas or struggling to come up with one, there’s an easier way to make the leap from brain to brush. Below is a three-step process that will help you narrow down your options, all while developing your idea as you work.

  1. First Things First: Drop The Logic

A lot of creatives fall into the logic trap when first deciding which idea to pursue. Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely a place for logic within the creative process—it’s just not now. Choosing ideas based on popular trends, grabbing the most attention, and those you’ve been dreaming up the longest will significantly cut down your creativity before you even start.

Let’s drop all logical reasoning for a second and go with intention. Let’s forget about all external goals for yourself and your project, and go in for a gut-check. Start with these two questions:

How do you want to feel while making your next piece?

Who do you want to be by the time you’re finished?

This step is super important, so make sure you take your time with these questions. Let them roll around inside your brain and marinate in there for a bit. Maybe you want to process a particular trauma, or maybe you just want to feel really freaking good. Maybe you want to develop your bravery muscle, or just relax into your art. It’s all valid. Allow yourself to call whatever intention you want for your next piece. Don’t be afraid to own it.

  1. Give Yourself Options

Before you move on to the next step, do me a favor and take a deep breath. Let go of the idea that you need to make something in this medium or pursue this idea. Let all options be possible, and they will be.

Now, make a list of at least three potential ideas that make you feel the way you want to feel, no matter what anyone else thinks.

If you want to call in more adventure, consider three separate ideas that make your heart race. If you want more friendship and a kinder world, come up with three ideas that conjure fierce, enduring love. Whatever you want, write it down. Note: Don’t be afraid to change it up! If you usually consider yourself a writer, but come up with a painting, drawing or piece of music while you’re brainstorming, go with it. You’d be surprised what those outlier pieces may have to tell you.

When you’ve got your list, give yourself three minutes per idea to free write. Set a timer and don’t stop writing until it goes off—even if your notebook looks like a hot mess and nothing makes sense.

  1. Circle, Circle, Circle

Now go through your three separate free writes. Read through them slowly. Pay special attention to words and phrases that make your stomach flip-flop or your heart bloom. Look for the thoughts that connect you back to your intention in the first step. Which ones make you feel the way you want your art to feel? Circle them!

When you’re finished, it’s time to evaluate what you’ve got going on. You’re not looking for which free write has the most circled words, but which one has the most powerful, tangible words. Think of it this way: It doesn’t matter if you have fifty words circled if they don’t take you any closer to your intention. But three ultra-powerful words that light you up? That’s key. Also, be on the lookout for the idea with the most physical words and descriptions. It’s usually a good sign if you’re able to move past wide-ranging, general ideas and visualize small details in your art as you brainstorm—you might be ready to get to work.

Feel free to choose from one of your three ideas, or mix and match your circled words to create something entirely new. Experiment with this until you feel good about your idea and the path it’s about to lead you down.

Need a little help? Check out this Wild Heart flowchart to help you take the leap from daydream to full-formed, fleshed out idea.


Andrea Hannah is an author, essayist, and mapmaker for creatives. She teaches courses on creativity and work-life balance and hosts in-person Wild Heart Retreats. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter (@andeehannah) and www.andreahannah.com.

by Andrea Hannah

Andrea Hannah is an award-winning author, essayist, and workshop leader. She teaches on living a healthy creative life at her Wild Heart retreats and writes about making art on Twitter and Instagram (@andeehannah). You can order her new book, A MAP FOR WILD HEARTS, anywhere books are sold.


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