Where Your Best Ideas Come From

“You will like it, because you get to do the same thing over and over again for four hours.”

My roommate Leah said this as she took me to this paddle sports fair where anyone could try out a paddle sport for the day – kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards. Game for anything and without a clue of what I was getting myself into, I picked the paddle board.

That first day out was, well, let’s just say that I stepped outside my comfort zone. And Leah was right, a repetitive activity was right up my alley.

I train for marathons, where the meditative space of a trail suits me. Since then I’ve practiced on my sister’s board, staying on my feet and going a little bit further each time.

The hardest thing about paddle boarding is not staying balanced when I’m horribly uncoordinated. It’s not paddling against the wind or riding out choppy waves. It’s letting my mind go.

There is something about hearing the waves lap against the board and feeling the air on my skin and taking in the surroundings of Flathead Lake and the view of the Swan Mountain Range that makes my mind greedy. It wants to consume everything and fill the tank and turn the experience into something.

When you are an online creator responsible for a platform, everything becomes fodder. You have so much to keep up with that every moment, every spectacular view, and every instant of joy and beauty is seen through the lens of creating something and sharing it with people.

Our current technology puts artists in a tough spot. On the one hand you have constant connectivity. You can reach your audience anywhere in the world by hitting a button on a device that is small enough to slip into your back pocket. These advances have revolutionized how artists share their work and reach their audiences, creating more opportunities and independence for them.

It narrows the space between you and your work. You’re constantly filling your tank at the same time that you’re drawing from it.

So what does this mean if you’re an artist? It means that sometimes you have to not think about creating something.

Do you remember Don Draper’s advice to Peggy Olson way back when she first became a copywriter in Mad Men? It stands out, because it’s one of the few times that he’s not being a world class asshole to her and he also summarizes how great ideas come. “Think about it deeply, and then forget it. Then an idea will jump up in your face.”

I can’t tell you how many of my best ideas I’ve come up with by not thinking, not brainstorming, not trying: doing laundry, commuting home from work, standing in line at the grocery store, or sitting in an art museum.

The best ideas come when you’re not looking for them, when you’re not seeing every moment and experience as an opportunity to create and share and seek attention.

Whether you are running, paddle boarding, or sitting in a laundromat and watching your clothes turn in the dryer for an hour, these are the moments when you get to open the gate and let your restless thoughts roam like feral animals.

This is where the magic happens.

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