The Process for Generating Ideas

“Where do you get your ideas?” my neighbor asked.

It is a question familiar to writers everywhere. Usually we cringe when we hear it, because the answer is not simple. There is not a single source for ideas, but a multiplicity of sources that are synthesized by the writer. So when a writer answers the question with “everywhere” it is the bare truth, but often unsatisfying to the person making the query.

This iteration of the question was a little different. My neighbor was asking about parenting, not writing. I muttered something about “all over the place” but I was unhappy with my answer. I feel like I ought to have something more useful to say than “I don’t know. They just come to me.” So I sat down and identified some specific things I do which feed my font of parenting ideas.

Read: The first thing I did when I got pregnant was buy a book. When Kiki had trouble sleeping as a baby I bought a book. Once there was internet I googled things. I have studied human development, childhood diseases, behavioral modification, psychology, the science of sleep, nutrition, atypical neurology, physical therapy, and motivational research. I haven’t studied any of these things enough to get a degree or pass a class, but I delved deep in my areas of interest. I even subscribed to parenting magazines for a time until I realized that they’d begun re-hashing material I had already absorbed. The studying filled my brain with bits of knowledge which could be combined in new ways.

Watch: I watch my kids. I watch other people’s kids at similar ages. This allowed me to see what behaviors are age typical and which are noteworthy. I also watch adults. I pay attention to what motivates people, why they lie, how they try to maneuver each other. I try to understand my kids as human beings driven by personality traits and needs. I watch to see how they strive to meet those needs. I watch family dynamics and interactions. All the watching is greatly informed by all of the reading.

Think: I take all the information I’ve gathered through reading and watching, then I ponder it. I ask myself if I agree with what a particular article said. Then I ask myself why I agree or disagree. I force myself to examine my assumptions and make space for things to shift around. If I see a poorly handled parental interaction in the grocery store, I think through how I would handle it differently with my child. I repeat that process with even more fervor when it was my poorly handled parental interaction.

Communicate: Other parents come from different backgrounds and knowledge bases than I do. I can not count the number of times when one of my neighbors simply handed me the answer to a parenting problem that I have been stewing over for weeks. In fact I’ve learned not to stew for weeks. Instead I talk to a fellow parent who will listen, commiserate, and offer ideas. I also go to my non-parent friends because they’ve been children and because their perspective from outside the trenches is often invaluable. I am extremely fortunate in my neighbors and relatives. We talk to each other and conspire to identify and meet the needs of all our kids. I also talk to teachers and school administrators. I value their professional experience and unique viewpoint on my children.

Pray: This one ought to be first, but I’m afraid too often it comes last. I get so busy doing the other things that I forget to seek direct inspiration. Prayer has often brought me answers that I simply was not getting through the other processes. In addition, prayer brings me peace and energy to accomplish whatever needs to be done.

All of those things are in process all the time, so much so that I hardly am aware of what I am doing. The good news is that I think similar processes will net similar results for anyone who wants to be able to generate creative ideas whether they are parenting ideas, writing ideas, or something else entirely.

If this process sounds exhausting, that is because it is. But I don’t know of any other way to get the ideas I need to muddle through on this parenting gig.