I stole this idea ... or, rather, these 10 ideas

The blogger James Altucher recommends writing 10 ideas everyday.  He argues that we have an idea muscle and if we don't use it, it atrophies.

I wholeheartedly agree.

When my Mom first got diagnosed with ovarian cancer and I stepped up to be the primary caregiver, I was swamped with organizing her medical care, helping her and my Dad make impossible health decisions, communicating with the rest of the family, and running the household.  I had zero time to play music. 

I'd put her in bed at night and then face-plant into my own bed.  My guitar literally never came out of its case.  Not playing music for months on end really did a number on my self-esteem. I didn't know who I was.  I wondered if I'd ever play music again.

During this dark time, I read James's article about writing 10 ideas every day and suddenly I saw a way to make songwriting a part of my very busy days.

I didn't have the time or the energy right now to play the guitar or write songs everyday, but I could at the very least find a way to write 10  ideas for new songs.  I figured this would take me about 10 minutes or so.  I could find 10 minutes in my day; I was almost always sitting in a hospital waiting room.  So, one day, while Mom was getting chemo, I just did it.  I wrote 10 ideas for new songs in the journal I always keep with me.

a page from my song idea book

And then I did it the next day and the next.  I didn't stop.  For over a year, without fail, I wrote down 10 song ideas everyday.

That's 3650 ideas for songs.  Some were song titles, some were situations, some were stories I wanted to write songs about.  Many were snatches of conversations I'd overheard in the hospital or character sketches of people who walked by me in the endless florescent hallways.  Dozens of ideas were about death: how I imagined she was feeling about her own death, what I imagined (and knew) she was sad about, worried about, fearful of.

Most, if not all, of the 30 new songs I am working on right now come from those 3650 ideas.  Once my Mom started feeling better and I had more time to myself to write songs and play guitar, I started mining the goldfields of those notebooks.  I dug and pickaxed and prospected them for all they were worth.  Here is what I found: a lot of dirt and rocks.  I also found some real gems, one or two shiny ideas.

If you want to start exercising your idea muscle, James lays out the process nicely right here.

How do you come up with ideas?  Do you have a habit around it?  Do you set time apart to do it?  How do you keep track of your ideas?  Let me know in the comments below.