A few days ago, blogger Darrell Vesterfelt of This Is Me Thinking, invited me to participate in a one-day blog series on the personal creative process, which can be found here:

As I sat down to write, I realized that I had put so much of those thoughts already into my upcoming book. Below is an excerpt from the book (and something veteran readers of this blog may recognize) on how I cultivate my ideas on a daily basis. I hope you find it useful!

How do you get your ideas?

I get that question a lot and I usually respond by asking the question back.

Well…you tell me…where do you get yours?

They always have an answer.

Walking on the beach. Reading a book. Flirting. Long hot showers. Observing what’s around me. Cliff-hanging. Solitude. Stealing. Doing the dishes. Reading magazines written for people different from me. Looking at random photographs, half-lit rooms, conversations with strangers.

In one of my absolutely favorite books on the creative process, The Creative Habit, dance legend and my personal hero, Twyla Tharp, puts most of these actions in a category she calls “scratching.”

Scratching is an act best done as a routine, designed to gather and collect small ideas to be used at a later date.

Personally, it is one of my favorite things to do. Whether it is in my iTunes library or a museum. I love to wander, look, hunt, and gather.

Here’s what it looks like for me:

While I work in many different mediums (video, live performances, church services) I tend to almost always get my initial inspiration from music, so I’ll usually start scratching there.

I’ll put about five or six songs from my eclectic mix on repeat, crank the volume, and with pencil in hand, wait to see what comes.

When I do this I’m not necessarily looking for big ideas, I’m just cataloging things I see or how I feel. As thoughts come, I write them down. As songs inspire me, I put them in “mood playlists” or “scratching piles” in my iTunes library.

I do this at least once or twice a week.

Again, the point of the exercise is not to create full-fledged ideas, but to keep my brain fresh and filled with words, ideas, colors, thoughts. I have found that these little bits have saved me when asked if I have “anything else.”

As you can imagine, this practice works in many different ways for many different people. For me it’s listening to music, for you it might be simply stopping, sitting, and giving your head some space to be free for a spell.

My friend Carlos, for example, sets his alarm on his phone to go off randomly a few times every day. When the alarm goes off, he stops everything he’s doing and forces himself to write down one idea. It might be a quick poetic phrase about the color of the building he’s in or maybe just a lyric of the song that’s playing in the coffee shop.

There is no right or wrong way to do it. But, if it’s ideas you want, it simply must be done.

While this wandering may seem like little more than daydreaming, scratching is an absolutely necessary part of making anything.

In fact, as I said, I am of the opinion that these small, routine moments of seemingly meaningless gathering when no one is looking have the potential to save you when everyone has their eyes on you.

Let me give you a specific example:

I had opened my mouth in a creative meeting and shared a big idea for a performance art piece for a worldwide leadership conference called, The Global Leadership Summit.

Think TED for Christians.

It required flexing muscles that I hadn’t used in a number of years and a lot of work I wasn’t sure I could bring myself to do.

A few weeks later I was informed the team had decided to go with my idea over a handful of others.

Gulp. What had I done?

I was given a due date and with that I was out the door.

Weeks later. Nothing came. And I mean nothing

I simply could not bring myself to sit down and attempt to develop the basic idea, which now had to be transformed into something real.

Every time I tried to write, the idea overwhelmed me.

I didn’t know where to begin.

I had a big idea but nothing to support it.

Or so I thought…

The morning of the day I had to present my new draft (the one I hadn’t written yet), I sat down and finally forced myself to write.

I forgot about the bigness of the idea and instead looked for something manageable.
I decided to start with a scratching pile in my iTunes that I had made a few months earlier.

Slowly I played one song after another, remembering the feelings and visions I had when I first heard them.

As I let those small scratches wash over me, the big idea began to take shape.

The disjointed ideas began to connect to one another and before I knew it I had some direction.

Here was the end result:

I had never been more thankful for my scratching pile than I was in that moment.

It saved me.

I could have never known that when I tagged those songs seven months ago they would be used for this project.

In fact, I shudder to think where I would be had I not been diligent enough to catalog those tiny little thoughts.

Scratch when you don’t itch.

Capture and catalog whatever comes.

Make it part of your weekly routine and stick to it.

I was telling a friend my idea of scratching and how I thought the creative process of getting ideas was more than anything about hard work.

He agreed but named a few times where it seemed like ideas just came to him or had been somehow given.

I believe things like this happen and when they do they are an act of God.

However, I don’t believe they happen without a person who is available.

When I’m scratching, I’m doing the hard work of listening so that when the flash of the idea comes I can actually hear it.

I’m practicing the discipline of making my heart available to God so that when He does speak (and He always does eventually), I will be able to discern it, capture it, then create it.

This is my personal creative process and I hope you find it helpful.

Now, you tell me…

What does your creative process look like?


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