I wish I had a better word for this, but it is what it is: your creative ideas need time to marinate. If you sometimes feel like you’re on the cusp of an idea, or you wish you could just come up with an idea for your next book / business / presentation / you name it, I want to share with you one practice that has helped me move from frustration to flow.
What Does It Mean to Let Creative Ideas Marinate?
When I was younger, I kept a blog every weekday. I constantly jotted down ideas in my Notes app on my cell phone, on a pad of paper next to my bedside, and in email subject lines I would send to myself. Most of the time, by the point where I had an idea, I knew where I was headed with it and could flesh out the rest of the outline and post.
But sometimes, it just wasn’t there.
And what I learned is something that’s supported me creatively ever since: it’s ok to let an idea marinate. To have an intuitive hit that something is close, but just not ready yet.
I recommend keeping a running list of all your ideas. Acting on the ones that spark your enthusiasm and feel easy and natural today. And letting the others marinate.
What to do you during that marination time? You detach from the outcome. You let your brain wander during walks in fresh air, on drives, on commutes, while showering.
And what inevitably happens is that as the days and weeks pass by, when seemingly nothing is happening, your brain is actually piecing together conversations, scanning its memory banks for experiences, and leading you to opportunities that will make the idea come together.
4 Steps to Brainstorm Your Best Idea
I applied this concept recently to coming up with the topic for my first book. I always knew that I wanted to be an author, but I had no idea what my first book would be about. So I followed these steps, which you can borrow for your creative process if you’d like.
1. Set the Intention
Even though I had known since I was a little girl that I wanted to write a book, I did put it fully out there until my mid-30s. I finally got serious and decided I felt ready. I set the intention that I would write the book. I put it there. And then…
2. Invite an Idea Into Your Awareness
I asked for support from the universe (although you can use life or God or whatever you call on for assistance). In her Masterclass, Sarah Blakely, the founder of billion-dollar shapewear brand Spanx, describes how she asked the universe for a million-dollar idea. And over time, she received the idea while trying to look her best in a pair of white pants.
I can’t explain how it works, or what’s happening in our brain and subconscious to pull things together, but it simply works. Try it yourself. Set an intention to do the things you desire—the screenplay, novel, side hustle—and then invite into your awareness an idea for it.
Shoot me a note when it comes.
3. Keep Notes Constantly
You know how, when you wake up in the middle of the night after a dream, you think for sure you’ll remember it when you wake up but it’s always gone by morning? Sometimes creative ideas are like that. So I recommend jotting things down constantly. Anything that seems remotely related or interesting to your idea.
Over time, your brain will make associations. You’ll see a vague notion start to get corners—to turn into a real, living concept. You’ll be able to move around an outline, transfer certain elements from one section to another, and not lose anything in the process.
When I finally came up with my book idea, I was sitting in Mexico relaxing (see the part above about creating whitespace for your brain) and immediately got the spark of something. I began jotting down potential chapters, and over the coming weeks, thought of others, built out bulleted lists below them, moved things here and there, and finally realized that I had something.
4. Wait for the Feeling
The final step is to wait for THAT feeling. It’s almost like a click. A gut knowing. It’s ready. I don’t know how to describe it other than that—to continue with our unfortunate marination analogy, it’s like when an oven dings that whatever’s inside is done. You get a similar feeling inside you, and you know that your big idea is ready for the world.
I don’t know what you’re dreaming of creating, but I hope this process helps relax some of the pressure around the timeline. Sometimes ideas are ready, and sometimes they need some time. And there’s nothing you can do to force it.
So set your intention, invite an idea into your awareness, jot down any glimmer, and wait for the intuitive hit that your creative concept is complete.
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