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How to get a new idea, part 4

An eight part series: 1, 2, 3, 4.

How to notice when an idea visits you

You already know that ideas are too small to be seen. Most of them are also soft as the dust that collects under your bed. You could be bombarded by six dozen ideas at once without ever noticing. You have to pay attention to the tiny tickles of their wings as they flutter around in your brain. Here are some of the best ways I’ve found of paying attention.

Get away from your television and computer and iPod and phone and tablet. It’s almost impossible to have a new idea when you are stabbing and swiping at a screen to find out who’s having a yummy snack or which kitten did a cute thing.

Cute kitten

Once you have got away from the screens, let the ideas know that you are paying attention. ‘Hello, ideas,’ you could say, ‘Here I am with my head swollen with all the knowledge I could find. I stuck a carrot in my ear too because I’m silly. I’m ready for you! Please fly into my head.’

At this point what will happen is probably nothing. Ideas have bad aim. They are cheeky too. They hear what you say and decide to play a little game. They might avoid you completely to see if you’ll get bored and go do something else. They might send a bunch of old ideas that you’ve had a million times before crashing into your head. The thing to do with old ideas is to notice them then set them to one side. A good way to do that is by writing down quick little notes, one or two words. You don’t want them to get in the way of the new ideas. When ideas are avoiding you completely, join in their game. Pretend like you are avoiding them. Pick up your pencil and do some doodling. Take a walk. Have a bath. Plop your nose in a pot of yoghurt. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as it’s something that leaves most of your brain free to notice ideas. Maybe do a casual whistle to show the ideas that you really don’t care whether they fly into you or not. Soon the ideas will be so curious about whether or not you are ignoring them that they won’t be able to help themselves and they will come crashing into your head like fat raindrops.

Waiting around for ideas might take a few minutes. It might take a few days. There’s a good chance that you’ll get bored while you wait. You’ll want to grab something with a screen to see if anything interesting is happening. Don’t do it! boredom is good. Boredom is your friend. The only reason William the Conquerer invented the car is that he was bored almost to death while riding his horse across the English Channel. Boredom is to ideas what lightbulbs are to moths. If you can work up some really strong boredom and manage to stick with it for a while, you’ll soon find a flock of ideas flapping around your head.


When you find one of those ideas in your mind, you’ll say, ‘Aha!’ (or ‘Eureka!’, if you’re in the bath*). You might get a tingle of joy that starts in your brain (or your toes) and spreads through your entire body. The idea in your will squeal and laugh like a happy baby because they actually do love to be noticed, especially by someone as clever as you. Imagine if you had been floating around since before the dinosaurs bumping into cliffs and slugs and potatoes and people too busy worrying whether their last selfie was cute enough and then you crashed into a head that was fizzing with information and curiosity and silliness. You would be thrilled. You might do a cartwheel of joy. You would probably pop back out into the air and shout to your idea friends, ‘Quick! Get in here! I’ve found the perfect place for an idea party.’

I have my best ideas when I am doodling, walking, taking a bath or washing the dishes. I was washing dishes when I had the idea for this little book. Ideas often show up after you spend time filling your head with knowledge. I think ideas like to let information stew in your head for a while before they show up. Remember, knowledge is food for ideas. Good food takes time to prepare. Dough needs time to rise before you bake it into bread. First, grow your head, then the ideas will come. All you have to do is pay attention.

An idea enjoying delicious knowledge stew inside someone's head

*The reason why people say eureka! when they get an idea in the bath is that eureka! is what the great Greek mathematician Archimedes shouted when he had an idea about how to solve a problem for the king. Eureka! means ‘I have found it’ in Greek. When he found the idea or, to put it the way we’re thinking about ideas in this book, when he noticed that the idea had found his head, he jumped out of the bath so excited that he forgot to put his clothes back on and ran, completely naked – I’m not making this up. I made some other things up but not this. He ran completely naked – bits in the breeze – from the city baths to his home so he could test his idea. His idea was a good one and he solved the king’s problem. Eventually it became tradition to shout eureka! when you have an idea in the bath. Running through town naked never caught on.

24 July 2015
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How to get a new idea, part 3

An eight part series: 1, 2, 3, 4.

How to be the kind of person that ideas fly into part two: be silly

How many times have you been told, ‘Don’t be silly!’? All day long parents tell their children to not be silly. Teachers tell their pupils, ‘Don’t be silly!’ You might even have friends* who seem to enjoy telling you, ‘Don’t be silly!’ They’re right, of course. Life is full of times to not be silly.

You should not be silly when you are taking an exam, even if the exam is a pointless waste of time dreamed up by the Government Education Minister who woke up one morning to find his favourite slippers chewed by the dog, his coffee too weak and someone on Twitter calling him a rude word so he went into his office and said to assistant, ‘This nation is in a terrible state – dogs chewing slippers, weak coffee and people on the internet being rude to Important People. We’re going to fix it, Alastair.

’How are we going to do that, sir?’ said his assistant Alastair.

’We’re going to write an exam to make sure the children of our great nation know how to behave. Question one: What is the proper location for a dog? Write that down, Alastair.’

’I’ve written it, sir. What’s the answer, sir?’

’Answer: The proper location for a dog is in the garden away from all slippers. [2 points]’

And so on.

Before long, you and all the children in the country are taking the Education Minister’s new exam. You know it is pointless. Your teachers know it is pointless. In his heart, even the Minister knows it is pointless but it’s too late because all the universities have decided that they won’t let you learn anything from them unless you’ve scored at least a B on the government minister’s pointless exam. It’s pointless but you still need to be serious.

Another time to be serious is when you are flying an aeroplane full of babies home to see their mothers and one of the engines has just quit and the flight attendants have run out of wipes to clean up all the baby sick and stinky bottoms.

Another time to be serious is when conversing with a frog. Frogs may look silly but I have been on four continents and I have never met a frog who wasn’t Entirely Serious At All Times.

Mr Toadypants is not amused

BUT (and this is an enormous but) when you are hoping for a new idea it is very very very very important to be Not Serious, by which I mean, to be silly. Ideas love silly people. I’ll give you an example. If you told your mum that you had whipped up a batch of disgusting and poisonous bacteria soup and thought you might drink a mugful before bed, she would say, ‘Don’t be silly. You’ll make yourself sick.’ BUT (the same huge but as before) drinking disgusting bacteria soup is exactly what Dr Barry Marshall did 1984. He did it to prove his theory that sores inside your stomach called ulcers are caused by bacteria and not by stress. Until Barry Marshall drank his disgusting soup and gave himself an ulcer and then cured his ulcer with antibiotics, everyone thought ulcers were caused by stress. Today most ulcers can be easily cured by taking some antibiotic medicine, all because of Barry Marshall being silly.

South American enormous but-tailed bustard

When a new idea comes along, the easiest thing to do is throw it out. New ideas seem silly and useless but that’s only because no one has used them before. Imagine if French farmer and astrophysicist Léon LeFarteaux had given up on his silly idea for super windy beans like everyone told him to. We’d all still be stuck on Earth and there would be no such thing as cheap holidays to Pluto. I hope that you’re brave enough to be silly like Barry Marshall and Léon LeFarteaux.

Farteaux Flyer

A good way to get started being silly is by making silly faces at yourself in the mirror. Blowing bubbles in your milk with a straw is good too. Sometimes when a song comes on the radio while I’m driving I like to sing along with a funny voice as loud as I can. Whenever I think of a dumb joke I like to tell it to my children. They think I just like dumb jokes. The truth is that I’m being silly so that new ideas will notice me and land in my head. I also like dumb jokes. There are literally** millions of ways to be silly. Remember when you used to lather up your hair with shampoo and then sculpt it into funny shapes? There’s no reason why you shouldn’t start doing that again. Try being silly at least twice everyday and I bet you’ll start noticing all kinds of new ideas in your head.

*You could be right in the middle of a perfectly reasonable experiment with some yoghurt and a pair of socks when your oh-so-grown-up† friend grabs the yoghurt pot and says with all capital letters, ‘DON’T BE SILLY!’ My advice in a situation like that: make sure you use your friend’s socks for the experiment.

**Many times when people say ‘literally’ they mean ‘not literally’. I literally mean that there are literally millions of ways to be silly.


19 July 2015
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How to get a new idea, part 2

An eight part series: 1, 2, 3, 4.

How to be the kind of person that ideas fly into, part one: grow your head

If you can throw a stone and knock a can off a wall from 15 metres away, your friends are probably impressed at your stone throwing skills. It’s hard to hit a small target from far away. You have to have very good aim. Ideas have terrible aim. They will try to fly into a head and end up at the top of a pine tree. If you want a lot of ideas to fly into you, you should be a cliff. Millions of ideas hit cliffs every hour. The problem with cliffs is that they are too dumb to know what to do with ideas.

Girl with an enormous head

You, on the other hand, probably know exactly what to do with a good idea. Your problem is that you are a small target. You need to get bigger. Actually, only your head needs to get bigger. There’s no point in growing your stomach. It’s almost as dumb as a cliff. You don’t have to grow the outside of your head either, just the inside. The best way to grow your head is to stuff it full of knowledge. Learn something every chance you get. Be curious.

Not long ago I was sitting in a coffee shop drinking coffee and looking out the window. I saw a man walking along the pavement with seven brand new floor brushes. Seven! Why did he need seven floor brushes? I was curious. I’m still curious. I wish I had run out of the shop and said to the man, ‘Excuse me, sir. Would you mind telling me why you are carrying seven brand new floor brushes?’ Can you imagine how many ideas would have flown into my head if I had learned what his seven brushes are for? I guess 18 and a half. (There are lots of half ideas flopping around hoping they’ll smash into another half idea and become a whole idea.)

Man carrying seven brushes

Some people think you should avoid knowledge when you are trying to have ideas. These people like to quote Albert Einstein who said, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’ They seem to forget that Einstein didn’t say knowledge wasn’t important. People are more important than food but the only people who truly believe that food isn’t important end up dead in about a month and half. Imagination is more important than knowledge but knowledge is the food of imagination. Einstein couldn’t have changed the science of physics forever if all he had was funny hair and imagination. First he had to feed his imagination with lots and lots of knowledge about gravity and the speed of light and rubber sheets.

Albert Einstein saying, 'Imagine if everything in the universe travelled at the speed of fish!'

If you want to discover new ideas, this is the one time when it’s okay to be bigheaded. Ideas need a big target. Here are some ways to turn your head into a big idea target:

15 July 2015
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How to get a new idea, part 1

An eight part series: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Ideas are tricky. Some people have ideas all the time. Some people never seem to have any ideas. Some people have plenty of ideas but they’re all the wrong ideas. I get paid to have good ideas and do them, so I’ve had to learn how to have ideas all the time. If I don’t, my family might have to become beggars or go to work for the companies that make those ads that pop up when you are trying to watch a video. Having ideas is fun. Fun should be shared. That’s why I wrote this little book. What I’m going to tell you works for any kind of idea – a funny new way to draw a cat, how to land a spaceship on comet that takes 10 years to get to, how to cure an illness or how to make a crying baby happy. Let’s get started.

What is an idea?

Ideas are tiny tiny weird creatures that fly around the universe hoping to slip into a head that will know what to do with them. (This is a lie. The truth is that ideas are tiny bits of electricity zapping between your brain cells. The truth is interesting but it’s not helpful when it comes to having new ideas. The lie about ideas being tiny creatures is helpful. This book is full of helpful lies.) Here are some ideas magnified thousands of times:

Six ideas

I haven’t drawn any actual size ideas because they are so small they can slip through your hair and your skin and your skull as easily as you can slip between trees in the woods.

There are millions and trillions and *quadrillions of ideas flying around bumping into each other and everything else all the time. We’ll never run out of ideas because they are reusable. Most of them live forever. Also, when they bump into each other a brand new little baby idea pops into existence. Right now, there are so many ideas flying around that it’s hard to imagine not bumping into 30 or 40 of them every time you move your head. They are like those little flying insects that swarm above a stream on a hot summer day. Even so, some people still have problems finding them.

I wrote this little book to help you get new ideas more easily. The first thing you can do to get an idea is relax. You don’t have to create a new idea. The ideas are already out there. Your job is to be the kind of person that ideas like to fly into.

*Quadrillion is a real number. This is a quadrillion: 1,000,000,000,000,000. It would take you almost 32 million years to count to a quadrillion if you counted one number every second. This would be impossible to do, not just because you would be really bored and dead. You would also have to say numbers like three hundred twenty-billion nine hundred eighty-six million two hundred fifty-four thousand seven hundred and thirty nine in one second. I bet you can’t.

13 July 2015
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The reason why: page 7 in shiny happy colour

The reason why I went to the moon for my birthday, page 7 in colour

I love Dr. Seuss books. I like his limited colour palette and large areas of flat colour, so I copied him a bit. I’d like to know what you what you think. Does it work? Does it make you happy? Do you wish I had used some purple? (This book will contain no purple.)

The reason you’re getting a coloured page is that I have hired a successful children’s author to look at my story and tell me if it’s any good or not and recommend changes that will help it on it’s way to publication. I want her to have an idea of how the finished pages will look and there is no way I’m going to keep this little treat from you.

Here is a comparison of the original scan and the tidied and coloured page:

The reason why I went to the moon for my birthday, page 7 comparison

24 June 2015
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The reason why: page 12

The reason why I went to the moon for my birthday, page 12

I haven’t died.

During the last nine months I did a little graphic design project that turned into a massive design project and earned three GCSEs (probably – results day is 20 August). I also rewrote the second half of this book. Twice. I think it is a much stronger story now.

Now I’m back and I’m so happy to be working working on the book again!

Updates may not be weekly quite yet. Over the next week I will be getting the book ready to show to a professional editor that I am planning to hire for a consultation. It may be two or three weeks until the next page but it will definitely be less than nine months.

18 June 2015
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Creativity #40

Immerse yourself in the medium and the message will emerge. (This is the converse of #12.)

3 June 2015
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Creativity #39

Children who are allowed to are always making things and adventures. Ask a child why they make things and adventures and they won’t be able to give you a PROPER REASON. That’s because only adults are stupid enough to need a reason for making things. The fact that you are human is the reason to make things. (For lots more good thinking in this direction, listen to this conversation between Rob Bell and Elizabeth Gilbert.)

3 June 2015
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This site contains cookies

People often ask me two questions. The first is: Did you make these chocolate chip cookies yourself? I reply, Yes, with an appropriate amount of honesty. The second question is: Can I have the recipe? My answer is, Yes, you can have what is probably the best chocolate chip recipe in the world.

The ingredients are listed in a mix of American and British measurements, so you might need to use this.

Get a big bowl, and put this stuff in it:

Mix them all up. Don’t taste it yet; it’s too slimy and gloopy.

Now add this stuff:

Mix again. Tasting is good to do now.

Chop up 300 g of really good chocolate, 2/3 milk chocolate and 1/3 70% cocoa plain chocolate. If you are living in North America and you are tempted to use chocolate chips or anything that has Hershey’s written on the label, resist. Put the chocolate in the bowl and mix one last time.

Grab some dough, make a ball and put it on an ungreased baking sheet. Repeat about 35 times. Bake all those little balls for about 9 minutes at 190°C.

Eat all that you can within a couple hours. Store the leftovers in an airtight container.

Your results may vary.

You’re welcome.

24 February 2015

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In which Neil Gaiman explains the quick and easy way to become a writer

Someone asked Neil Gaiman for writing advice because he found it difficult to get his thoughts onto paper. Gaiman replied:

Write the ideas down. If they are going to be stories, try and tell the stories you would like to read. Finish the things you start to write. Do it a lot and you will be a writer. The only way to do it is to do it.

I’m just kidding. There are much easier ways of doing it. For example: (This is where you click to go to Gaiman’s Tumblr and read the brilliance contained therein)

14 January 2015
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