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Get Your Best Ideas Before You Get Out of Bed: A 5-Step Process to Creativity

By Barbara Greenleaf March 02, 2024 Lifestyle

As I discussed in my previous article, “Crafting Opens the Door to Creativity,” there are many routes to creativity and – contrary to what we were told as children – no artistic talent is required for most of them.

Whether you call it thinking outside the box, originality, or dynamic problem-solving, creativity is simply a way of approaching puzzling situations and coming up with solutions for them.

To me, creativity means breaking old thinking patterns. It also means making new connections. Perhaps a milk bottle used to look like just another milk bottle, but suddenly you see that with a little paint and decoupage, it could become an attractive lamp base. And that jar of peanut butter, hmm… what a pencil holder it could make!

Finally, creativity means gaining new perspective on old problems. There’s nothing more satisfying than breaking out of old mental ruts and coming up with a Plan B when Plan A isn’t working.

As a graduate student, I took a course in problem-solving that has stood me in good stead all my life. It taught me that solution-oriented thinking is nothing more than a methodical process that can be learned.

After years of observation and practice, I have come to believe that creative thinkers are made – not born. And I have no doubt that you can be one of them, too.

Let me share a five-step process for creativity that works for me.

Set Out a Pad and Pencil Next to Your Nightstand

If you keep writing utensils nearby, they will be easy to reach if you get inspiration in the middle of the night. By morning you may not be able to retrieve it.

Consciously Articulate What’s on Your Mind

Before you close your eyes, do a quick review of the issues on which you’d like to get fresh insight. I have found that the brain works in mysterious ways, and while you are sleeping it might very well be working on your dilemma du jour.

Dedicate the First Minutes of Each Morning to Creative Thinking

When morning comes, force yourself to lie still in the dark and let your mind wander. This is the time of day when your defenses haven’t arisen, and negativity has not yet set in. By allowing a stream of consciousness to flow, some seemingly random thought could make the lightbulb go off in your head.

Turn on the Light, Pick Up Your Pencil, and Start Writing

In The Artist’s Way and its sequel, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond, Julia Cameron recommends that every day you write out three pages of memoir, longhand – her much-heralded “morning pages.”

Memoir writing offers an opportunity to reflect on – and honor – past experience. This book guides you through the daunting task of writing an entire memoir, breaking it down into manageable pieces.

The morning pages – private, stream-of-consciousness writing done daily – allow you to express wishes, fears, delights, resentments, and joys, which in turn, provide focus and clarity for the day at hand.

I’m not so doctrinaire about the page count, but I agree with Ms. Cameron that this morning ritual will unclog your mental and emotional channels and lead to being happier, more productive, and more creative.

Finishing It Off

After I’ve gotten my thoughts down on paper, I often like to conclude with action steps. There’s something satisfying to me in “paying off” my ruminations with do-able, concrete tasks.

Finally, you can keep your journal or tear up the pages you’ve just written; I’ve done both. The purpose of the journaling is not to review your thoughts at some later date, but to engage in the process in real time.

The more you practice an organized problem-solving routine such as the one described here, the better you’ll get at it. You’ll be unlocking your creative juices, which will start to flow with thrilling speed.

No longer intimidated by that undefinable and unattainable “something” called creativity, you’ll find you’ve acquired a wonderful, new tool to help you make this the most fulfilling time of your life.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

How do you get your best ideas? Do you like to work out the dilemmas of life by talking to friends, taking long walks, or writing them down? What issue in your life calls for “creativity” right now? Please share your thoughts with our community!

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Toni Stritzke

I started writing my guided three pages a couple of years ago and though I’d always thought writing a journal to be a bit of a waste of time; I have been blown away at how it’s changed my thinking about creativity and my creative thought processes. I find I’m better at trusting my creative ideas and I listen with greater attention to that inner artist. Also much less self judgment.


I am definitely giving this a try. Perhaps the community discussion will cycle back in a few months and I will have a meaningful perspective to share.


Hello, Barbara! We know one another through another site.

I write daily, always have. I’ve written several blogs for decades. Ideas come or they don’t. Often a friend will trigger a memory. Right now I am writing about my mother.

The Author

Barbara Greenleaf is the author of the new self-help book, Parents of Adult Children: You Are Not Alone, based on her long-running blog. She has also written a history of childhood and a self-help for working mothers. Barbara was on the staff of The New York Times.

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