Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ideas, Unimpeded

At Family Circle, I'm lucky enough to be in an environment where I'm seen as a coworker with something to contribute rather than just a mail-collecting intern. My additions are appreciated. My thoughts are respected. My input is valued. So it's not uncommon for an editor to pop her head over our shared cubicle wall or shoot me an exclamation point-peppered email to ask me for story ideas. I've been able to pitch to three sections for our October and November issues so far, and it's been a thrill. 

But even while engaged in the most energizing tasks and brainstorms, I notice that my creativity can stagnate when I'm locked into routine. And as I currently slog through my morning commute, I'm feeling it: the sluggish pull, my mind dragging itself from thought to thought. Wake up to my car-horn alarm. Haul myself to the 7:30 NJ Transit bus. Pull into Port Authority, dully wander on the train across town if I'm feeling languid. Four stops. Slosh through the bodies of the subway station and finally, finally emerge above ground in the blinking sunlight. 

Slog, slug, slosh. These are not the onomatopoeic zingers I want to begin work with. And they’re certainly not going to help this intern perform at top speed or get published. I want my thoughts to flow, my ideas to spring, and my pitches to flood. So I’ve schemed up a few tricks to unblock my brain and let the tide of ideas stream in.

Start the day with a creative challenge. The first thing I do when I come in every day is write up a to-do list to boost myself for the day ahead. But I toss in an extra task: begin the list by making it look entirely different from the last. Now, three weeks’ worth of to-doodles sit on my desk, each a reminder that it’s always possible to find a new way of expression. I’ve found that when words are drifting listlessly in my head, I can coax them into order by first stretching out with visual thinking. Consider them cranial calisthenics. 

Surround myself with inspiration. Since that 7:30 bus usually gets me into the office before the rest of the staff arrives, I've taken some early-morning time to decorate my workspace. When I find myself in a mental snag, I glance to a vintage poster of the Duomo on my right and think of my last semester studying abroad in Florence -- the easygoing Italian lifestyle and the openness I had developed to simple, unhurried wandering for discovery. I've stashed a screengrab of Klimt's Beethoven Frieze behind my computer, the golden, paradisaical exultation in a journey completed. They both remind me to pull back on the pressure to produce, produce, produce. Ideas will come, and I'll celebrate when they do.

Cloud, doodle, and freethink. For those tip-of-the-tongue but not-quite-there moments, I prod my brainstorming along to eventually find the words and ideas that I hope for. Sometimes it takes clingy one-on-one time with my web thesaurus, and sometimes it takes furious scribbling with every word association I can scrawl on my notepad. But usually, the digging I do helps me find the sprout of an idea. Thinking "July" led to sun, which led to beach, which led to the beachside reads idea I suggested as a poll for our Facebook page.

It isn't always easy to unstifle a sleepy, routinized mind, but I've found my little ways to keep sharp while interning and trying to put out the best work that I can. Block, consider yourself busted.

Written by Gabriela Riccardi, Syracuse University, Family Circle
Edited by Anna Hensel, Creighton University, Inc.

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