Being a creative type I have always found it difficult to explain my thought process as it is something that happens subconsciously. I just ‘have’ ideas, most of the time I don’t really feel like I control it. It’s only when I can’t have ideas that I pay it any attention.
When I began to speak and write about what it is to be creative I begin to research and read extensively on the subject, particularly about how the brain functions and thinking skills. What I learnt was that thinking skills and creativity can be worked like a muscle and intelligence is not directly related to either.
"I still prefer the connection between the physical paper and my thinking process."
Over many years you do begin to find your unique way of working and the process of having ideas. Many techniques you pick up along the way and then adapt to you own needs.
Physical paper and thinking process
I am a visual person (obviously) and my thinking is always best worked out with the physical process of pencil and paper. There are great online tools such as Balsamiq and Mural.ly but I still prefer the connection between the physical paper and thinking process (perhaps from my experience being a traditional illustrator and print designer). Starting away from the computer means your range of possibility is expanded and your thinking becomes pure.
Paper, pencil and a wall
My favourite tools are: paper, pencil and a wall. Whatever technique I am using it involves externalising everything onto paper and placing on a wall so that I can stand back and have a visual overview and see what needs to be moved, added or taken away. And, most importantly, to see connections form. I believe the essence of creativity is the ability to make connections and see relationships between seemingly random elements.
To create a content strategy ideas wall
An ideas wall is a technique used across many industries, not just creative, the best example being detectives who have long used a visual wall of reference to assist solving crimes. This technique helps you to see the connections within your collated research and then formulate your ideas.
Tools needed: paper, coloured pens, highlighter pens, printouts of all reference material, coloured string and push-pins, post-it notes, blu tack or tape and a large wall space, pin board or sheets of foam board.
Organise your reference material into themes or groups and pin/stick to the wall.
Devise a colour code system for your different groups with the pen colour you have, and use the coloured pens to mark and highlight relevant pages and sections of information.
For example, if you’re working on content strategy for your site, then group into:
Brainstorm a list of keywords surrounding your brand, niche, theme or anything seasonal. You can include keyword research, but not limited to.
List influencers who could help to broadcast your content and sub-group in different social media channels, newsletters and authority sites (e.g. Guardian, Huffington Post, Fast Company).
Places to mine ideas from such as offline periodicals, online Q&A sites like Quora, social media channels and Google trends.
Potential sites to target for exposure, shares and links such as authority hub sites, bloggers, online magazines/publishers, email newsletters and social media sites.
Collect visual reference, ideas, techniques, trends and anything you like, just because.
By grouping related themes, we start to see patterns. If you have a piece that doesn't fit into a group, this 'outlier' could in itself give ideas.
As you begin to make the connections you will see content ideas begin to form. I also recommend using Pinterest to create a scrapbook of anything that visually appeals based on your theme. You can print images off and add these to the wall under a group of ‘things I like’.
Stand back from the wall and look for potential relationships or connections between the information. Using pushpins and coloured string makes a visual link between the two. The key here is flexibility: move pieces of paper around, create new string links, make new groups (by repositioning).
Simply standing and looking at your information contained in the ideas wall will allow your mind to make connections between seemingly random elements.
Take time to stand and look at the wall and keep taking a break and returning. Allow your brain time to process and distil. Your ideas will start to form and generate.
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