Capturing Sneaky Ideas

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Ideas are funny beasts. It always seems like they’re all around you until you really need one. The more they’re needed, the more likely they are to hide. Ideas are also sneaky little creatures. They seem to get a thrill out of hitting you when you’re least expecting them, or when you are unprepared to do anything with them.

You can make their sneaky tendencies work for you, though, once you understand their behavior. It’s actually pretty easy to lay some traps to capture them and put them to work. The trick is knowing what brings them out to play and then being ready and waiting for them. Here are some sneaky idea types and how to catch them.

The Stress Sneak: This idea likes to come out when you are completely overloaded with work or personal issues. It knows that you have no time/energy to turn it into anything and that you’re likely to forget about it by the time you’re free enough to contemplate it.

The Trap:  An idea file. You don’t have to stop what you’re doing to deal with an idea. Simply write it down in your file with enough information to jog your memory later. Hah! The sneaky idea is captured for later use!

The Relaxing Sneak: This idea likes to appear when you’re relaxed. It might be during your shower, your daily meditation session, or as you’re drifting off to sleep at night. It’s banking on the fact that, by the time you’re dressed or awake, you won’t remember.

The Trap: A piece of paper, or a voice app on your phone. The minute the idea comes to you, be ready to record it, even if only a tiny fragment. Keep a piece of paper by the bed, a whiteboard in the shower, or have your phone handy to record a simple memo. The idea will be there, ready for you to deal with it.

The Inappropriate Public Venue Sneak: This idea likes to turn up at events like parties, funerals, weddings, presentations, plays, and other places where it’s bad form to start writing things down or go dashing off to deal with your new idea. (Broken Fate was the result of this type of sneaky idea. It was hatched at a funeral.)

The Trap: This one’s tougher to catch because you can’t just write it down or record it. The best you can hope for is to excuse yourself to go to the restroom and record it in some way. If there’s no elegant way to excuse yourself, you’ll just have to rely on your memory to get you through until you can record it. Practice mnemonic devices, keep repeating it to yourself, or whisper it to someone else and hope they can help you remember. It never hurts to practice memory exercises so that when you really need it, your memory is up to par.

The Exercise Sneak: This one likes to come out in the middle of a workout. It’s one thing when they appear in the middle of a gym session, or while you’re doing an exercise video at home. You can easily record them at those times. The really sneaky ideas like to turn up in the middle of a marathon, during a sixty mile bike ride, or as you’re hiking the steepest pass on the Appalachian Trail.

The Trap: No matter how inconvenient, make sure you never engage in a workout without some sort of recording device nearby. Even if it’s just a slip of paper and a pencil stub in your running shorts, make sure you have something. (No joke. This idea type sneak-attacked me so many times back when I was doing marathons that I learned to be prepared. My running shorts had this tiny pocket that was meant for a car or house key. I used it for a grimy slip of paper and a tiny colored pencil. I was not above stopping at the rest area and scribbling junk down.)

The Disease Sneak: This one turns up when you’re too sick or injured to do anything about it. From experience, the sicker you are, the better the idea. Hospitals are great idea incubators.

The Trap: If you’re lucky, you’ll be in decent-enough shape to record the idea in some way. If not, you”ll have to hope you can get someone else to do it for you. If you’re lucid, though, you can keep running the idea through your head and expanding it as a way to entertain yourself while you recover. By the time you’re well enough to go home, you may have an entire book written in your head.

Given that you’re likely to be visited by one or more of these sneaky idea types, it pays to always be prepared. Always have a way to capture ideas handy. Also, train your friends and family to help you remember things in emergency situations. Or at least train them not to look at you like you’re nuts when you beg them to remember.

Now that you know how sneaky ideas can be, use this knowledge to your advantage. The next time you’re desperate for an idea, engage in one or more of the activities known to bring out the sneaks. (Well, not the disease one. Intentionally ending up in the hospital is not the path to a writing career.)  Lull the sneaks into thinking you’re not ready and then nab ’em.


(Photo courtesy of ColiN00B)

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