Where do ideas come from?
This simple quandary has stumped generation after generation of thinkers, academics, writers, artists, musicians, and creative types of every kind. Interviewers constantly badger famous authors for any clue of where their most memorable fictional characters come from and songwriters dissect chart-topping hits in an attempt to reverse-engineer some long-kept secret formula.
Much like the mythic Spring of Eternal Youth, the secret source of humanity’s ability to be creative continues to evade us. However, there is another question that I think can be answered: When do ideas appear? The answer to that question, and our willingness to adjust our lifestyle to it, may be the ‘secret’ that so many seek. So if you are not currently living a creative life and would like to I am offering a concrete, costless step that you can take on that journey.
When do ideas appear?
My Answer: Microspaces.
Microspaces, as I define them, are all the insignificant moments of the day. Taking the elevator. Stopping at a red light. Brushing your teeth or standing in line at the grocery store. Tying your shoes. Sitting on the toilet. Microwaving your lunch. Waiting for the bus. Watching a laggy webpage load.
Microspaces offer brief moments of mental liberty. They are the empty ‘in-betweens’ in our days that so easily go unnoticed. They are the white space between the letters. They are the silence between notes. They are the breaks in the pattern and the place between strokes.
In my experience these microspaces are exactly when my best ideas appear. Not during dedicated brainstorming sessions. Not during my scheduled writing time. Not while doing research or hammering out words on the keyboard. They float into my mind during those empty moments. But look carefully at the microspaces listed above and you may find that those moments are not so empty for you.
Cell phones and advertising have practically eradicated microspaces from our lives. If you are not looking at an ad during an elevator ride you’re probably checking your social media accounts. Tweets from the toilet and duck-face Insta-selfies in the bathroom mirror have replaced contemplative silence and a moment of self reflection. Fear Of Missing Out and cell phone addiction are endemic. Advertisers and developers pride themselves on filling every unclaimed surface and second in our lives with noise.
When all the white space on the page gets filled the text fades into chaos. Without the silence between notes the concerto becomes a cacophony. But that is how most people are living right now and human creativity suffers for it. So what’s the good news? We are all in control of how we manage our microspaces.
If you are serious about being a creative person you need to actively cultivate your microspaces. Don’t fill every moment looking at a screen or gawking at photoshopped models in advertisements or on magazines. Just let your eyes rest on those round buttons in the elevator. Stare at the seagulls outside while you wait in line at the store. Don’t make a habit of checking your phone in the bathroom and look out the bus window rather than up at the ads.
Nothing has been more rewarding in my creative journey than protecting my microspaces from mental clutter, but don’t interpret this advice as dismissive of the hard labour that goes into being creative. Ideas are raw materials that need to be shaped and refined through hard creative labor. However, if you don’t allow room for microspaces in your day you’ve cut yourself off from that mysterious spring of ideas somewhere beyond our reach. Embrace your microspace.