Recording Ideas

Using a sketchbook surely is a simplistic thing. Right?


Its just a place to absentmindedly doodle, isn’t it? You have a book, full of lovely blank pages, and your only goal is to fill it. Anything and everything can go into your sketchbook. Its a world of infinite possibilities. You’re just waiting for your brain to come up with some of them.
ANNNNND… Here is where all your problems start. You open to that first, dreamy, pure white page and your usually inspired mind stumbles, falls, and raises a white flag to surrender.


After that using your sketchbook feels like chasing one beautiful fish in a large, dark river, with only a small book-sized net to catch it. As an idea swims by in your mind you sprint to your sketchbook to try to catch it and scribble it down before its gone forever. Inspiration is stubborn like that. The Greek myths told of the different types of inspiration as beautiful women, the Muses, that you had to stay on good terms with in order to be blessed with their knowledge. This is why trying to capture an idea is never as simple as you would think it should be.

Sometimes the Muses are feeling kind and give you the whole of an idea just when you want it. However, most of the time they are not so generous. Instead, they give you the beginnings of an idea, leaving you with the frustrating job of trying to figure out what you should do with this small bit of inspiration, that really seems to mean nothing. Otherwise, they give you an idea, but at completely the wrong time, so as you are faced with the dilemma of whether you need to finish telling your boss why you were late, or rather, you need to drop everything and run to somewhere quiet for meditation and rampant scribbling.

Unfortunately, there is no way to win in that situation. However, there are ways you can make sure that this situation doesn’t happen. If you are clever you can get on such wonderfully good terms with the muses that they allow you inspiration at more appropriate times. and will much more often allow you the whole of an idea. Whether you believe in the muses, or you are following metaphorically, Here is how …

Amazing solution number one: try to get in the habit of making a specific time in the day that you dedicate to brain dumping. By setting a specific time the muses will get used to visiting you at these times. Having a time of day that you always sit down to think, you are also giving yourself more of an opportunity to prepare for the flow of thoughts coming your way. You can get out your notebook, or whatever else you feel you might need to capture your thoughts, comfortably in time for them to come to you. Saving you all that sprinting and rushed searching.

Two: don’t try to make your ideas sound perfect or even rational straight away. write whatever you have, whatever it is. Even if you don’t necessarily think it will be relevant. If you know you want to write an inspired thought down, but it feels lost to you. Write down whatever you have. I find that the rest of the idea tends to come back to me as I spend time Thinking and writing it down.

Three: Bring a small notebook with you everywhere. To be clear this can be whatever method of recording that works for you best. It might be a camera or voice recorder.
I find that most inspiration comes to me at night a few seconds after I lay down. This used to frustrate me as it seemed that, just when I wanted to switch off for the day, I would be bombarded with the best ideas. Often this left me worrying all night about forgetting the ideas in the morning. Otherwise, I used to end up getting back out of bed to start work again. Neither of these solutions worked. Obviously, both resulted in a lack of sleep. The absolute worst thing for new idea creation and there is nothing the muses hate more than trying to communicate with a grouchy, sleep-deprived human. So, to combat this annoyance I started taking a specific night time ideas notebook to bed. I can see that this may seem counterintuitive. Hasn’t work now been brought to bed with me. But NO. bringing a sketchbook to bed means that any idea I have can be permanently recorded straight away so that I don’t have to worry about hanging on to it. It acts like a tool for meditation, allowing me to note the idea that came into my mind, but then let it pass on, knowing it’s not lost if it turns out to be a good one.

This time in bed is not the time of day I dedicate to meeting with the muses, however. If I depended on this time I really would never get any sleep. Instead, I have booked muse visits for first thing in the morning. This way I can get out of bed and straight away try to decode the mess of words from the night before.

Four: Figure out which things typically fill you with inspiration.
For me its news stories, philosophy and the stories from my friends. My work focuses on the development of personal identity, so I know that anything that seems to influence this will be an inspiration to me.

Five: If you know what your work is about you are more likely to be able to predict the types of things that inspire you. Bring more of these things into your life. I try to watch the news, read books and talk to friends about how they view themselves as much as I can.

Six: one of the best ways to be freshly inspired is to read back through your old scribblings to remind yourself of what you had been thinking. Possibly, to find new meaning in previously non-sensical jottings. I often read back through my sketch/notebooks and Philosophy essays. Often I will have read the same thing through several times before suddenly out of the blue it has new meaning to me.

So there we are. These are all the things I currently do to stay on good terms with those bloody self-obsessed muses. I hope it was useful. I’m sure that there are many more ways to capture inspirations masterfully so if you know any that I haven’t mentioned, please please please do let me know. I am just as interested in improving my self with this as you might be, so I would really love to hear from you!

Also thanks for reading!

I’m new to blogging and really trying to build a little creative community here, so If you would like to be part of that please leave a comment and I can add you to an emailing list, if you would like, to know when I create new posts and make new work. I would also like to know if you have any other ideas about ways to create a community where we can have an open discussion and share inspiration.

good luck with whatever you are trying to achieve!









6 Responses

  1. Elizabeth
    | Reply

    It’s very interesting to me, as someone whose medium is words, not images, how much of what you say applies just as much to writing, particularly the idea of sitting down at a regular time to write or think. The other idea which really sparks with me is that of beginning before you have worked things out. I find it very easy to do too much in my head and not enough on the page. In fact I’m in one of those phases right now and it is hard to break out. I know from past experience that the thing to do is just to start in the middle. Maybe I will.

    • Ellie Cox
      | Reply

      Do it! I struggle to keep up these things even though I know that they are what works for me. Thank you for leaving a comment! Have you had a look around the site? What do you think :)? X

      • Elizabeth Musgrave
        | Reply

        I like it a lot. Lots of interesting things here. I’d love to see a lot more of your work up here. I know your range is quite wide and things like your portraits would be interesting to see too but it is very clearly your space, to be serious and silly or whatever you want in, and that comes over really strongly. Like it.

  2. Jan
    | Reply

    This is really interesting.

    Hi, Ellie! I found you via Elizabeth’s blog, and agree with what you’re both saying.

    My version of a “brain dump” is based on Julia Cameron’s creativity tool, the Morning Pages Journal: ideally 3 handwritten pages of A4 every morning. It has the same kind of idea as you suggest: sitting down to mull things over, but also just dumping what’s in your mind on the page. I’m finding it useful now as I’m starting to do research for Book Two. It lets me step back a bit and think “OK, what have I done so far? Where do I want to go next?” It also gives me a space to vent and dump a few negative thoughts, e.g. “Why the hell did I volunteer to do this?”

    Frankly I’d use anything for idea catching, including a large net!

    • Ellie Cox
      | Reply

      I have tried morning pages, and it is probably the method I use most often! But I have found that sometimes the pressure to write at length stops me from being precise and then getting on with things. I think I have basically found that I need to change my method about so that I can get a slightly different view of things. Do you do it everyday ? Do you think it has helped? Thankyou for your comment! It’s so great have feedback!

  3. Jan
    | Reply

    Hi Ellie,

    In principle I do my pages everyday, and have done since 1999. In reality if I have to be up early I don’t have time (maybe 2 days a week) and nowadays I free myself from the “3 A4 pages” restriction. I’m currently doing a meditation course, so I add on a very brief gratitude list on the end. I think it has helped; I started it when I needed to write a regular article for work. It’s taken me into semi-retirement, and helped me write a book which came out last year. I’m now working on Book 2.

    See what works for you! I found it helped me put something on the page without obsessing about “great writing”, and it got me into the habit of regular writing. Whatever helps make you feel more free.

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