Fishing in Your Stream of Consciousness


Much like the elusive rainbow trout of my youth, generating ideas on the fly can at times be a bit challenging. You carefully plan your expedition, plot the sweetest spots, bait the hooks, and yet, sometimes, you’re still left getting no “bites.”

Could glittering, yet sometimes fickle, ideas be hiding beneath the shadows of your latest works of brilliance? Or perhaps you head on over to the web and begin trolling the nets for tasty bits of inspiration? There’s certainly always good old-fashioned discipline, process, and even all out brainstorming for when viable concepts prove to be a bit finicky. But what if your tried and true idea-tackle box only produces flounder? What if after applying all of your best efforts you’ve still failed at snagging that lunker of an idea that you know wades beneath the shallow depths of the banal?

Despite our tenacity, reeling in some of those game-changing ideas can be frustrating. In such instances I, personally turn to a tactic that I learned over the years called, automatic writing. With this exercise I simply pick up the pad and paper, laptop, or smartPhone and just write…and I write…and I write some more. I write until I get out about all that I can bear relating to any particular challenge/problem/assignment. The aim here is mass exploration through expression, so skip the formalities. During this activity I don’t necessarily obey any rules of punctuation, grammar, or…heck, even logic! I just write and do as thorough a purging job as possible.

This sort of tactic works well for me personally, but what if you’re not a writer? Not to worry, as I too am not always keen—or sharp enough—on chopping up word salads, after all it’s still ideas we’re after, right? If writing isn’t your thing then I would suggest any number of other creative activities that are generative in nature such as sketching, collaging, or voice/video recording for example. Any activity that gets you in the frame of mind of making, doing, or capturing some manner of thought, exploration or expression is good. What you don’t want to do is get caught flat-footed doing nothing. And you certainly don’t want to get caught on your butt—in consumer-mode—searching, reading, or aimlessly day-dreaming. This is a very bad place to be in; the vortex of meaningless effort, as I’d like to call it. It’s time to pull out all the stops and cast as many deliberate lines of generating as you possibly can to get some meaningful ideas on board. The more you explore the better.

With the bait now being set, it’s good practice to keep some manner of parameters or time constraints over the first wave of effort so that we don’t get lost and confuse the process with your intended goal. After you’ve done your first round of getting things out—and upon returning from your magical break, doing whatever the heck pleases you—get back to your material for a review and turn the imagination back on. Look for any patterns or clues, or better yet see if you can feel any “snags.” I sometimes like to think that I’m some sort of a highly-trained “idea whisperer” and have extra sensitivity for when the ideas are just about to bite. As soon as something comes up—and believe me, they will—break out the pens, pencils, or blood and write! Get that sucker on paper. I don’t care how bad or faint something might feel or sound, at this point you’ve got to pull up and set that “hook.” Do this with whatever comes up no matter how crazy, off topic, seemingly-irrelevant, or stooooopid it might seem. Write it down and take note. You can exercise quality control and sort things out later, should you feel the need to throw anything back.

Throughout all of this, what matters most is that you get confident with one or two modes of idea generation. This way you can build greater facility and then allow yourself to venture into other, less conventional methods of exploration later. Once you’ve landed a few ideas that you feel pretty good about, it’s time to clean up and get them ready to take home. If, on the other hand, you’re still not particularly happy with “today’s catch,” then I highly suggest you give this current undertaking a rest, reset, and try it all over again the following morning. If the following day is needed, then break continuing efforts apart as follows, the separation of days is very essential, and so is a really good, material binging session (i.e. research parties and simply getting the subject matter under your nails.

Ready? Exercise!

Day 1: Binge – Gather as much info and material on the problem/challenge as is possible; become a ferret of information, context, knowledge and fluency as you can.
Day 2: Purge – Get it all out. Write, collage, record, sketch, or whatever you feel like making related to this topic. The point is to create something, anything as a conceptual illustration of your understanding. This will likely become a sacrifice later, a necessary kill for something better later.
Day 3: Snag – Set the hooks and wait. Pull up anything that comes up without regard to quality. This time it’s about quantity.
Day 4: Clean – Sort out the good from the bad and the ugly and keep your top 5 ideas; three for further consideration and elaboration and the latter two as reserves.

That about sums up how I personally like to fish for ideas. I hope that you find what I’ve presented as useful. I’m eager to hear more about how this helps you out. Drop me a line if you so wish, but please, no treble hooks, ok? I like to keep my sporting adventures clean and cruelty-free. ;P 

Happy “fishing,”

Robert Charles Miller