1.14.2009

Need an idea? Get a mop

The one question writers are always asked: Where do you get your ideas?

There are plenty of smart-alecky answers -- from other writers, from yo mama, the "idea store," China, secret government files, outer space, LSD trips, Satan. But, for me, the one that's most truthful probably is: From cleaning toilets.

Some of my best ideas have come while scrubbing stuff or raking leaves or vacuuming or doing other repetitive, mindless tasks, such as snacking.

One, the physical effort doesn't require much brainpower, so my mind can think about other things. Two, my subconscious sees an idle brain and feels it must yark up some ideas to keep me from dying of boredom. Three, sweaty, hard work reminds me that I don't want to do manual labor for a living, so I'd better come up with some ideas pretty darn quick.

No matter what your area of endeavor, when you're stuck for ideas, it pays to go find some physical activity to do. In my case, that's long-overdue housework, but you aspiring geniuses out there can pick whatever works for you. As long as the task doesn't take much concentration, that "work zone" can be an ideal place for generating ideas.

For example, I'll be vacuuming and think, why, I could do a column about . . . vacuuming! And, voila, before you know it, I've churned out 600 words of pure drivel. Moments like these make a writer proud.

Or, I'll be working on a novel and get stuck on a plot point, some niggling little impossibility in the storyline, and I'll wander off from my desk to sweep or something. When I return, I will have solved the problem, often without realizing I was working on it! Usually, the solution involves erasing page after page of gibberish, but, hey, that's part of the creative process, too.

If you try this method, not only are you likely to have some mental breakthrough (as opposed to the mental breakdown that can occur while sitting at a desk, staring into a blank computer screen for hours), but you will have accomplished something else simultaneously. Your ideas still might be terrible, but at least the toilets will be clean.

Remember to keep a pen and paper handy so you're ready when you're struck by a bolt of inspiration. I often get terrific ideas in the shower, the one place in the house where I can’t jot them down. A finger on steamy glass is only a temporary solution. By the time I get dried off, the ideas have evaporated.

The manual labor method of creative thinking does have its hazards. You can wander away from your desk and never come back. And some chores present their own temptations. Go to make the beds, for instance, and, next thing you know, you find yourself curled up under the covers, napping. Kitchen work often involves consumption of so many calories that your brain can slip into a sluggish stupor.

Bouncing between your desk and physical labor works best if you have a home office. If you are in a regular workplace and are stuck for ideas, you can take a walk or do some stretches or do something else physical, but your bosses will start to wonder about you if they find you scrubbing the toilets.

The janitorial staff, on the other hand, will think it's a great idea.

1 comment:

poodleland said...

At last, a good reason to scrub the toilets!