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Harnessing Your Creative Mind and New Notebooks!

I hear a lot from readers and friends who would like to get into making, and the most common two reasons they don't start are: "I don't have the skills" and "I don't have any ideas!"

Skills, as I'm sure you're seeing from these posts, come with practice. Nobody is born knowing how to drill, solder or sew, but in most cases a very little practice gets you to the point where you are at least functional with a craft skill. And if you're enjoying yourself and making things you're pleased with, you'll find the time flies by and you'll have put in many hours of productive practice before you know it.

I'm just a beginner in many of the techniques I use here, but while I learn I use workarounds and guides to prop up my more limited abilities and produce things of a decent standard - I spray paint with printed templates, use jigs to drill or cut, or use pre-existing shapes to form the basis of things I make.

Having creative ideas may not seem like something you can learn, but it's a skill and a habit that can be developed in exactly the same way. All you need is to establish trust with yourself that your ideas are valuable, build a habit of generating and capturing them, and give your creative subconscious room and time to play and explore.

Since I was in my early twenties, at home and at work, I've used a system called Getting Things Done to organise my tasks and goals. GTD was developed in the 80s to help executives at Lockheed organise and manage an ever-increasing deluge of information and decisions, but has proved equally useful to hundreds of thousands of people who use it to plan and organise their lives and work. It's a super stripped down, functional set of action lists, plans and habits that aims above all else to free up your mind from keeping track of to-dos and allow it to do what it does best - be creative.

Maybe the most important habit from GTD is "capture everything". When you have an idea, whether it's a book you want to write, a holiday you want to go on, an email that needs sending or remembering to clean out the cat's litter tray, you capture it in some form and put it where you need to see it, when you need to see it.

By getting those task-based bits of information out of your head and into secure reminders, you free up the bit of energy that's spent trying to remember that thing until you actually need to be thinking about it. You clear out that little bit of anxiety associated with trying to track that the thing gets done, and you also establish trust that when you think of something, it won't just disappear into the ether if you forget it, but will be secured and acted upon.

Practicing this kind of consistent capture with your creative ideas will not only make you realise how many ideas you have (but frequently allow to escape when your attention shifts), but as you clear your head and build trust in the value of your ideas you'll find yourself having more and more of them.

It's very important to establish the feeling that every idea is valuable. A lot of people who say "I never have ideas" actually have dozens of them - it's just that they shoot every one down as soon as it appears - "It's too difficult", "I'm not skilled enough", "I don't have the tools", "Someone else must have thought of that already". Remember, you're not committing to make something - an idea is just an idea, it's playtime in your head! But if you capture enough ideas, you will naturally start to land on things you really can make, and are excited to get started on.

If you want to practice this, make sure you always have some form of capture with you which is easy to use and which you enjoy using. Phones are great because most people always have their phone with them - email yourself an idea, or there are plenty of apps that do voice recordings, even transcribing them for you. You can snap photographs of things that inspire you, or take notes on a scrap of paper and photograph those. Notebook and pen is great too, and particularly satisfying. Whiteboards have their own magic - a big, clean whiteboard and a marker is deeply inspiring for me because you can just throw out ideas, sketches, random words, wipe and try again.

Remember, you want to grab that idea the moment it arrives; don't weary your brain carrying around ideas for things you might make in the future, or risk losing that gem when something more immediate takes over your attention. Your creative mind is working all the time, in the gaps between things, and I'm sure you've found that great ideas are more likely to come to you when you're washing the dishes or walking the dog than when you sit and stare at a page.

Whenever I have an idea for something I would like to make, I start a new project file; just a text file with notes of anything I've thought about it so far. Usually I'll note down a few lines of thoughts I've had in the moment - materials that might be needed, tools, problems that will need solving.

To deal with all those thoughts that start with "But I don't have...", I sort them into a "Waiting On" folder. This is where I put ideas that I will need to obtain some particular materials or tools to make; anything from a supply of good hardwood to a particular colour of cardboard to a £2,000 3D printer. Whether or not I will ever get the things I need for that project, I've given my creative mind the respect of capturing that idea, and it's exciting and inspiring (and free!) to file a few ideas that are really big and out there, whether or not they ever come to pass.

Some of my ideas in the Waiting On folder are effectively art installations which would require thousands of pounds worth of materials and months of work - but writing them down costs nothing, and who knows, in a year or two... I also note down ideas or images or even feelings that I love but don't have something concrete to do with yet.

And in case you need somewhere to capture those ideas...

...I have a new notebook in my Etsy shop! It's this beautiful blue Craft Ideas Notebook - each page is gridded for easy notes and sketches, there are 60 pages for your ideas and thoughts and in case you're stuck for ideas the last four pages are full of guaranteed never fail* questions, exercises and prompts to help get your creative juices flowing.

*This is not a guarantee

They're £5.00 each but as thanks for reading along here and supporting the blog, if you use the code COLESLAW you'll get them for £4.50 for the next week. If you'd like a special variant just let me know, either on Etsy or at mark at silverknife dot co dot uk, and we'll work something out.

I've also restocked on Daily Mindfulness Journals, and you can get them for the same price with the code (I've bumped the base price for those a little as almost everyone who's bought them so far has said they'd have paid more! We'll see how they go - still feeling my way with this stuff).

See you soon!


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