What’s Holding You Back?


The moment I step away from my computer (aka, every time I stop working and give my brain a break), I get a new idea. A lot of times we find ourselves wondering why all our ideas find us in strange places: in the shower, making dinner, cleaning out the garage.

Places are full of inspiration, and there’s no doubt location plays an important role in the new ideas we stumble upon when we move from place to place. But it’s mainly the act of stopping, of looking away from a screen long enough to let in the new idea that’s been waiting in the doorway, that unites us with new ideas and starts bringing them to life.

As I’ve been working on my book the past few months (no, I’m not done yet), my workouts, and yes, even showers have been filled to capacity with new ideas for stories. Most of them stories and projects other than my current one. I’ve had ideas for short stories, songs, even an idea for a musical (it may or may not have involved coffee).

Yet I haven’t written a short story in over four years, all my song lyrics (when I remember to write them down) consist of four-line stanzas or less, and though I’ve written one T.V. show pilot (at least I think I finished it) I have never written a script for a play or movie or musical, ever.

I think an important quality of successful, influential writers is their ability to write in more than just one genre. There are a lot of stories out there, but there’s never just one way to tell them, and sometimes some stories are better told, for example, in the form of a play than they might be in the form of a book. I don’t want to just sit around and write novels: I’ve been saying that for a long time, and that’s why I write articles and occasionally write scripts for videos that may or may not ever actually become things.

But I love writing short stories and songs and plays, everything. So why am I stuck in this rut of writing a book, trying to finish this book, wondering when I’m finally going to be done with this thing, when I could easily do my daily novel writing, open a blank document and start writing something else?

Maybe you’ve been here, stuck between what you’ve already accomplished and what you hope to achieve someday. So let me ask you: what’s stopping you from taking that step, moving away from what you’ve already done, finishing what you’re doing and moving on to something else?

People tweeted about George R. R. Martin during the Emmys last night. “Please go home after this and finish the book already,” they said (or something to that effect). I wrote a really insensitive Dear John post a few months ago about the same thing, and I’ve left it up and am linking back to it now because I don’t try to hide my mistakes. To show that no matter how many posts you write, there’s something to learn from every new thing you do, whether it was a good idea or not.

I understand now, why it takes good writers longer than we’d like to move forward with their work. It takes a lot of effort to look back at what you’ve already done and decide you still want to go back and do the exact same thing, on top of everything else you still want to do before your time in this world is over.

What’s holding you back? Maybe you just don’t know what the next thing will be. Maybe you don’t even know if there will be a next thing at all. Maybe we’re just meant to do only one thing at a time, because we’re human and we can only do so many things well at the same time.

Or is it something else?

Are you ready to plow through it, to finish what you started and dive right into the next thing?

Or did you not even know you were standing in your own way of whatever’s coming next?

Image courtesy of Flickr.com.

Today We Finally Define “Brain Rush”


We’ve talked about it more than once, leaving the phrase up to interpretation. We want to talk about it more. But we can’t do that if we continue to neglect defining what it actually means.

Here’s what comes up on the first page of search results when you type “brain rush” into Google:

BrainRush, “high-efficiency game-based learning” from Adaptive Practice™ (they’re also on Twitter @GoBrainRush and they have, at this moment, 536 likes on Facebook)

Brain Rush, the Android puzzle app (Brain Shape Rush for IOS)

Brain Rush (the American T.V. game show that lasted, count it, one month)

Putting the words “brain” and “rush” together isn’t something new. There are a lot of companies and concepts out there dedicated to combining creativity and fun with learning and thought development.

In a way, we’re doing the same thing. Writing is a creative process, but it requires a lot of brain power. Sometimes it’s hard to get a string of thoughts together; other times, it’s impossible to stop thinking.

Therefore, we like to use the phrase “brain rush” too. Maybe a bit differently than playing a game or watching reruns of a short-lived T.V. show (if you want, you can watch the Cartoon Network show promo here).

What is brain rush? 

For writers and other creative thinkers, brain rush is that occasional yet glorious (and sometimes annoying, inconvenient, overwhelming) period of time when ideas rush into your brain nonstop. Old ideas, new ideas, odd combinations of both—you’ll be reading something, watching something, eating dinner, and boom—brain rush. Sometimes so severe you have to write something down, fast.

Why? To make room for more ideas, of course. But really because the feeling of harboring multiple ideas at once, accompanied by the fear of forgetting them, is worse than actually (temporarily) forgetting them.

How do you manage brain rush?

Whether you’re for writing down your ideas or against it, find some way to get the ones that stick out to you most out of your head somehow. Make a note in your phone. Scribble keywords down on a post-it note. Record a voice memo. Do something to free your mind from the rush of thoughts inside. Then, leave it there and go on with what you were doing before the rush.

When you go back to your phone, post-it, voice memo, whatever your method, your list of ideas might not seem quite as promising as they did when they first came to you. This is exactly why it’s never a good suggestion to jump on a new idea the second you think of it. With the rush comes excitement, a tiny bit of healthy mania. It’s likely, though, that only a few of those original thoughts, or maybe even just one, is worth developing further.

Is brain rush a good thing?

It can be, if you know how to manage it. After period of “brain drought” (much more justifiable than writer’s block, because your brain can’t block thoughts that aren’t there!) brain rush can quench your creative thirst and melt your fears of never being able to come up with a decent idea ever again (we’ve all been there).

However, learning to use brain rushes to your advantage takes practice. It takes time to figure out a good spark-record-review cycle. It takes time to figure out which ideas are promising enough to turn into future projects. Over time you learn your style, your strengths and how much of a challenge is too much.

In a sudden rush of creativity and abstract discovery, it’s not easy to know what to do with all the ideas you’ve transferred from your brain to another device, ideas that, seemingly, came out of nowhere.

That’s why we practice. That’s why we refine our craft. That’s why it’s okay, every now and then, to try out an idea, decide it isn’t working, and set it aside. Like writing itself, managing our ideas is a process. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s so frustrating it seems impossible.

Creativity is unpredictable. Expect the unexpected. Power through the drought. Drink in the rush. Whether you’re putting the fun back into learning, creating an app or pitching a new idea for a game show, ideas will come. Often all at once. In the middle of the night.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

How to Cure “Idea Insomnia”


Getting a new idea is great. Losing sleep over it? Not so great.

We’ve all been there, awake in the middle of the night because of an idea. And we’ve all ended up tossing and turning, losing valuable snooze time, because we have a good idea and it’s 3 a.m. and we don’t know whether to sleep on it (literally) or sacrifice sleep deprivation for the sake of our craft.

Here’s what you can do to cure your own “idea insomnia”—inability of sleep due to spontaneous explosions of literary madness (the good kind).

Keep a Notepad Near Your Head

What better way to cure an obnoxious overflow of inspiration—one that keeps you even more obnoxiously awake—than to keep paper close by?

Not on or under your head, necessarily, but whatever works for you. Keep a notepad or journal on your nightstand or on the floor next to your bed/couch/air mattress. That way, if you wake up and there are ideas stomping around up there, you don’t have to go far or put much effort into dumping them out on paper and leaving them to rest till morning.

Keep Your Eyes Closed and Let the Idea(s) Unravel

Often the most exciting part of a writer’s life is the moment a stream of new ideas appears out of nowhere. Being excited about your new ideas is a good sign: it means you’re more likely to work on them and carry them through to completion. But don’t rush. Take a little time to experience them for yourself, in the safety and infinity of your mind, before bringing them to life for others to imagine.

If you’re wide awake because of a new idea, get into a comfortable position, close your eyes and just let your mind roam free for a while. Some ideas are so clear you can almost see them played out in front of you like a movie on a screen. Some ideas are just a sentence, or a short exchange of dialogue repeating itself inside.

Let it unfold. Breathe. Lose yourself in it. You’ll either relax and fall back asleep or you’ll have to move on to the third suggestion. Either, or both, are acceptable, and completely healthy.

Get Up, But Set a Timer

Sometimes your ideas are so in-your-face and relentlessly begging to be released that you quite literally won’t go to sleep until they’re taken care of. Every once in a while, it’s okay to get out of bed and put a little time into storing these ideas away for later—but not too much time. All-nighters to tend to “newborn” ideas? Not recommended.

Set a timer on your phone for five to 10 minutes, crawl away from your sleeping place and give your idea some attention. Whether it’s jotting down a quote, a line or a few paragraphs, the fear of forgetting an idea is not just understandable, it’s real.

Get the idea out of your head and onto something you can refer back to later—enough of it that you’re confident you can return to it in the morning—then bid your idea goodnight and go back to sleep.

Okay, so “idea insomnia” isn’t the absolute worst thing that can happen to a writer. But aside from playing with words and secretly complimenting ourselves on our own puns, sleep is a writer’s best friend. Without it, sleep deprivation takes over. And while plenty of amazing prose has probably resulted, ideas belong on paper, not your pillow.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.