Inspiration, if you believe in it, is quite fickle. You can have a great idea one day, and then not come up with anything noteworthy for weeks at a time. Even if you think inspiration is really just about hard work, there are always times when your desire to work hard just isn’t there. So how can you stack the deck in your favor and make it more likely that you will continue to be inspired consistently and frequently?
If you want to direct lightning to strike a certain target, you erect a lightning rod. The lightning rod is frequently struck because of its particular construction, material and positioning. To become a lightning rod for inspiration, you have to pay attention to very similar things.
Record the Context
Writing down your ideas is a great way not to lose them, whether you’re doing so digitally or using more old-fashioned methods. But while many people write down what it is they thought of, few think to record what it was they were doing when they had such a great idea. The ground in which the fruitful plant grows, after all, is just as important as the plant itself.
While you’re writing down your genius idea, also jot down when, where, and, if possible, how the idea came to you. The idea is that over time, a pattern might emerge, one that could help you replicate the circumstances which produced inspiration in the first place. There are a couple of particularly good ways to go about this.
The Double-entry Notebook
A really good way to track not only what you’re thinking about, but how and when you’re thinking about it is using a double-entry notebook. It’s simple enough to create, just take an ordinary notebook and draw a line down the center of the page each time you start a new one. You could also pick up a stenographer’s notebook, which is pre-divided for you.
The idea is that you record your thoughts in the left-hand column, and then, right after that, record any contextual details about the conditions that generated the idea in the column on the right (or vice versa, the side doesn’t really make a difference). Include details like where you are, what you were thinking about before you came up with your idea, what was going on around you, etc.
If you’re not so interested in the low-tech method, you could do pretty much the same thing using a database or spreadsheet program on your computer. Plain old Excel (s msft) or Google Docs (s goog) could do just fine, or a more advanced (and better organized) personal database app like Bento for the Mac might be more to your liking.
With something like Bento, you can create custom fields and enter all kinds of information, while keeping your format consistent. You could do the same thing with a custom form in Word, Acrobat or whatever other program you prefer to use. The important thing is that you have a way to capture data that you’re comfortable using, which should make you more likely to actually use it.
Processing the Data
Truth be told, a lot of what you learn using the process probably won’t be useful in the strictest sense. It’ll all be interesting, and you’ll probably learn a thing or two about yourself that will surprise you. But what you will gain from the experience is a number of shining points of overlap, things that you see recurring over and over again whenever you have your best ideas.
At least some of those things should be replicable, which means that you’ll be better able to provide a working situation in which motivation and inspiration will come easily and without much prodding. Basically, you’ll have reverse-engineered your inspiration process, and you’ll have an informed and complete view of how and why you work.
How do you get inspirational lighting to strike twice?
Image credit: flickr user KM Photography