My mind is a mess.
I mean, literally, a mess.
There are too many ideas in there. Bits and bobs lying about all over the joint.
Send a cleaner.
Send a shrink.
It’s like someone ran into a library with a barrel of explosives and let rip…
There are pages everywhere. Ideas strewn across collapsed shelves. Quiet librarians shivering in corners, desperate to speak up but too shaken to speak clearly.
I doubt I’m alone.
In fact, I know I’m not. I asked some creative friends how they manage all the ideas in their heads and it seems everyone struggles.
I asked folks to complete the sentence “I manage all the different ideas I have in my head by…” to see if we could glean some insight.
Wily old ad-man, Drayton Bird hit upon the very problem in his answer:
I manage all the different ideas I have in my head by worrying like hell which one is right.
It is worrying, isn’t it?
In fact, I believe it’s a curse every copywriter must carry…
To have a mind like this…
With so many ideas shouting to be heard at the same time…
It’s essential to your success.
But it can also be the cause of so much darn stress.
How we’re able to find a way to manage all these ideas is key to being a successful creative.
It seems, presented with this challenge, a lot of people try to document their ideas.
The aim is to ‘get them out of your head’ and down on a page, where they can be better managed.
A few of my fellow creative thinkers do exactly this.
For example, Drayton Bird’s business partner and a fine copywriter in his own right, Gerald Woodgate, writes:
I manage all the different ideas I have in my head by writing them down. Then I sleep on it and see if they’re still good ideas next time I look at them – this might be the next day, it could be longer.
Best selling author and always sartorially impeccable copywriter, Andy Maslen, takes a similar approach:
I manage all the different ideas I have in my head by writing them down and saving them in a file called IDEAS.
And famous shed-dweller, Gareth Hancock (of That. Content. Shed. fame) continues in this vein:
I manage all the different ideas I have in my head by writing them down. I can’t handle too many ideas at once. The first idea in is usually the first one bumped out when a new idea comes along. So, however ridiculous (and I have many more bad ideas than good), if it seems like there could be something in an idea at the time, I write it down in a notebook or on my phone for safe keeping. If it turns out to be crap, fine. But at least it was there to judge.
It makes complete sense.
And for some, this might be the best approach.
It’s logical. It’s relatively easy to adopt. And it’s sure to stop you going too mad.
But is it the only way?
Well, I would be lying if I said I write everything down.
In my book, The Art of the Click, I offer the advice of James Altucher to write down an idea every day so you’re constantly accumulating.
I try to do this myself, but don’t always.
Instead, I actually give in to the chaos.
I let the ideas fight.
I step aside from my own mind and close my eyes tight, wincing in the hope that the fights taking place are fair and just.
I only open my eyes again when a winner shuffles forward and presents itself to me, ready to be realised.
See, I figure if an idea can get through the wild mess that is my mind, it must be pretty strong.
Good ideas have a tendency to be self-sufficient. They know how to handle themselves. And they’re insistent…they keep tapping you until you take notice.
Sure, it’s a risky business.
There may be great ideas I’ve lost doing it this way. Ideas that could have been developed if I’d only noted them down in their chrysalis state.
And naturally, doing it this way is a pretty big bet on myself. If nothing makes it through the subconscious scuffle, I’m screwed.
But it’s how I work. If you’re as chaotic as me, perhaps you’ll at least take some solace in knowing you’re not alone.
Still, it’s not the most useful advice: to trust your mind to self-filter the best ideas you have. It’s honest advice, just not too practical.
It’s why I roped in some friends on this one to get a good spread…
A buffet of ideas, if you like.
I featured some of them already, but below you’ll find some of the best creative minds in the business on how they cope.
Like I say, I gave them the opening few words of the sentence and they completed it.
Fi Shailes over at Digital Drum takes a similar approach to me initially, before getting a bit more practical:
I manage all the different ideas I have by first letting them spin around my head, for days sometimes – a bit like bingo balls in a machine. Then, when I’ve filtered them down to what I believe to be the best ideas, I’ll usually capture some bullets and titles in the Notes app on my phone, so I don’t forget. I don’t usually seize the pen as soon as I think of something; preferring instead to turn it over and over in my brain (sometimes to an almost painstaking degree) until I’m confident there’s mileage in it.
A copywriter with a beautiful beard, the right honourable André Spiteri, uses a useful sounding app to help record his ideas:
I manage all the different ideas in my head by making a note of them on SimpleNote as soon as they crop up. Then, I can dip in and out as much as I like and work on them over weeks or even months if necessary. My main problem is that I really suck at following through on my ideas. So this solves the problem because it takes the pressure off. I just fire up the app, type in what I have in mind — maybe a subhead, a sentence or even a whole paragraph — and get out. And I can keep doing it until I’m done.
However, the lovely Katherine Wildman at Haydn Grey, adopts a more artistic approach:
I manage all the different ideas I have in my head by pulling into lay-bys and waxing eloquent into the Voice Memos app on my phone. I’ve just done it three times on the way home from running a copywriting training course for a business in Cumbria. Most of the time there are gems amid the minutes of nonsensical twaddle. But I need to get nonsensical twaddle out of the way so that the gems can shine. And I swear by A3 artist pads for plotting and planning – combined with soft-leaded pencils. There’s something about the drag of pencil on paper that slows the monkey mind. And I get to pretend to be an art student.
Leif Kendall, director of ProCopywriters, likes to fire his ideas off his peers, which is a good idea:
I manage all the different ideas I have in my head by writing them down. I share them with others too (which helps me figure out if the idea is worth pursuing). I try to find colleagues or peers who can make the idea come to life and I allocate time to develop the idea myself. Finally I try to organise the ideas and file them away.
And finally cool copywriting cookie, Laura Parker, recommends getting tough:
I manage all the different ideas I have in my head by being ruthless. If the idea isn’t usable, useful or valuable – or all three, I can it.
It’s great to read about the nuances between different writers and my sincere thanks to everyone who was able to get involved. It’s much appreciated.
I hope if you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by all the ideas rumbling around in your head, hearing how your fellow creative thinkers deal with the problem might offer some help.
Indeed, please do share this article around if you enjoyed it. It might well help a fellow writer realise they’re not going mad!
P.S. If you haven’t bought my book yet, could you do me a massive favour?
No, I don’t want you to go and buy it now…
I’d love you to tell me WHY you haven’t bought it?
I’d like to think it’s pretty relevant to you and could help you in what you do, but what’s holding you back?
I’d love to know – drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.P.S. Of course, if you’ve not bought the book because you’ve never heard about it and this is the first time you’ve come across me…