When You Least Expect It, Expect it.

Creative ideas don’t gently glide across the artist’s desk, darkroom tray, or easel comfortably between the hours of 9 and 5. Occasionally they do, but by and large they usually smash us in the side of the head at 10:56pm when the movie is over, at 12:10am after the argument with your brother or, in my case this morning at 3:56am after awaking from a startling, but amazing, dream.

To be clear, I’m not advocating not sleeping. I’m simply advocating a readiness to respond when those ideas percolate into your consciousness. In my experience–when I’m just living my life, minding my own business, but ready…no, not ready…WILLING to commit to ideas is when they come to me. It could be different for you, of course, but this is when I’m best.

The idea to put some of the first “behind the scenes” videos of photoshoots online came to me in the middle of the night.
The idea for Seattle 100 came to me at 5am after a restless night of sleep.
The aesthetics for Songs for Eating and Drinking presented themselves to me at 2am, after a long night of eating and drinking.
The aesthetic for the campaign I’m about to shoot came on a red-eye flight when I got up to pee.
The idea for uniting my iphone app, book and online sharing site came at 3am.
And so on, ad nauseum.

None of those were ideal times to motivate, but I’ve learned that creative ideas are wonderful, beautiful, and often rare and fleeting things–wispy as all hell, they are…[click ‘continued reading’ link below]

…and so I beg you not to resist their timing. On the contrary, cherish it. Get up. Write it down. Be alone, or call your friend. Grab your notebook for a sketch or your iphone to mutter some words into its microphone. Start to scribble, type, record that video, go for a walk and develop those ideas.

At all costs, be willing to embrace them when they tap you on the shoulder. You’ll be thankful you did.

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46 Responses to When You Least Expect It, Expect it.

  1. Will January 21, 2010 at 9:12 am #

    Cool Beans Chase! I love having my Droid (Verizon iPhone) around just for that reason.

  2. Nicholas Critelli January 21, 2010 at 9:20 am #

    I live with sharpies and paper next to my bed for this very reason – inspiration strikes at the oddest times.

    I firmly believe we're most in touch with our creative energies when we're somewhere on the edge of consciousness. When our rational mind is slipping away and giving over to the visual cauldron bubbling beneath.

    Ok, I'm done waxing poetic. Good post.

  3. Amy January 21, 2010 at 9:21 am #

    If ever there were a day I needed this reminder, today would be it. I'm 2 months into being laid off from my editorial art director position and don't particularly want another similar 9-5 job where the creative process is completely misunderstood by those at the upper levels. So thanks for the inspiring words.

  4. Matias Singers January 21, 2010 at 9:22 am #

    This is exactly the reason I always carry my moleskine around and got one laying next to my bed at all times.

  5. Imagination Included Photography January 21, 2010 at 9:43 am #

    Chase, I find my ideas come to me at random times as well. I have had some great ideas for photo projects while in the shower. They just hit me and then I have to sit back and digest it. That is usually when I go for a motorcycle ride and think about how to make the idea come to fruition.

  6. Sam January 21, 2010 at 9:45 am #

    Have the same thing happen to me a lot. I have a pen and notebook on my night stand. And generally never leave the house without something to write things down with.

  7. JD January 21, 2010 at 9:46 am #

    You nailed it. I like to call it "listening to my Spidey Senses". Embrace it and good things happen. And don't forget to write stuff down.

  8. Nathan Clendenin January 21, 2010 at 9:55 am #

    So true. I have lots of great ideas while on the throne!

  9. Joshua January 21, 2010 at 9:57 am #

    Perfect. Great job identifying the difference between a photographer (or any artist, really) and someone who resists becoming one.
    I always keep a pencil on my person – if not behind my ear for this very reason. It's led only to good experiences and end results.

  10. fotogenique January 21, 2010 at 10:11 am #

    Very, very, very true. I've come up with some great ideas in the middle of the night but I've also scribbled some concepts down only to find out the following morning that the ideas were **** and I'd wish I had turned over and gone back to sleep rather than stumbling around trying to find a pen and paper.

    Great post!

  11. Timothy Lusk January 21, 2010 at 10:11 am #

    I think all creatives have the best ideas at the oddest times (3am or whatever). That's how we excite ourselves and execute the ideas that sell. ;-) Thanks for sharing, Chase.

  12. Janous January 21, 2010 at 10:12 am #

    I think this is great advice. I've forgotten many ideas because I didn't want to get out of bed at 3am or pull over to the side of the road when an interesting idea popped into my head. I find myself thinking "I'll never forget this, it's too cool!" Then 10min later I can't remember the vivid details. 30 min later I don't even remember I had a good idea. Just hearing (or reading in this case) others voice the same thing is helpful. Thanks!

  13. andrew urban January 21, 2010 at 10:14 am #

    i defiantly agree… ideas will come when you least expect it! oddly enough, i try not to write anything down as it comes, i feel like if i write it down, then the urge to create is diminished. if i try to formulate that idea and let it gel in my head for a bit… i will come back to me, like it needs to get out of my head. weird. when i have friends that complain about not being able to think of something creative, i like to tell them that they are thinking way too hard about it… go do and think about something else… listen to music, watch a movie, go grab a drink, whatever just stop thinking about creating and it will come to you!

  14. Rockhopper January 21, 2010 at 10:18 am #

    insomnia at the moment, whats sleep?

  15. Aaron Hockley January 21, 2010 at 10:44 am #

    I tend to have my crazy-best ideas pop into my head during my morning shower.

    No idea why, but many of my big projects have started while washing.

  16. Alex January 21, 2010 at 10:48 am #

    Keep a notebook.
    I can't shoot my ideas at the moment, I don't have the right gear to do them justice. So what would be the point in spending time writing up ideas when I can't shoot them anyway?

    Well I know I will be. I'm working towards that and I fill my notebook with locations, lighting techniques, people I want to shoot, ideas and concepts I think of.

    Now I'm starting to look back through my notebook and I can't believe how many awesome ideas I have to shoot. My portfolio is going to be insane. And without embracing a readiness to act on my thoughts, I would be unprepared when the right time comes.

    Nice post Chase. I'm going to assist or shoot with you someday, for sure.

  17. Kain January 21, 2010 at 11:34 am #

    I always seem to have trouble motivating during the day but I'm most productive late at night when I'm just about to pass out. I wish it was the other way around.

  18. Chris January 21, 2010 at 11:43 am #

    It's true that you have to be open to new ideas at any moment. My problem is continuing to embrace the idea a week later once I've run into a few road blocks.

  19. Scott McQ January 21, 2010 at 11:56 am #

    I was sitting in church, looked at someone across the isle and got portrait idea I really liked (tried to drop a link but it didn't work – new to this blogging thing).

    I found my dream ideas are much more impressive before I reach full conciousness.

    My best ideas seem to come while I'm driving. I think from the release of the days tension. That transition period is my best time.

    The key is to be aware and follow the thread of the idea and great things can come.

    And sometimes not so much…

  20. Edwin January 21, 2010 at 12:34 pm #

    I am glad to hear you say this. Now my wife won't think I am completely insane when she hears me at 3am talking to my iPhone.

  21. mugget January 21, 2010 at 1:00 pm #

    it's so true. quite a few times i've had some funny ideas just pop into my head. and i think about them for about few minutes… but i'm usually in the middle of something else – so i think "oh yeah, that was a stand-out idea, i'll remember it later and write it down". but more often than not, i can't remember them. :(

  22. Jamie January 21, 2010 at 2:02 pm #

    Well said, Chase. I've always had this philosophy too. I once even woke up in the middle of the night to write down a quirky 'poem' that came to me and I wanted to use as my voicemail message.

    I recently had one of these ideas happen in reverse though. I had the idea in the middle of the day and now I've been up until 4am every morning working on it.

  23. Daniel Q Nguyen January 21, 2010 at 2:24 pm #

    this could relate to many of us in so many different ways. I do wake up in the middle of the night to make that picture that i had on my mind right there in my room.
    yep there are times. we gotta be ready to accept it.
    thanks for sharing Chase

  24. Frozen Forever Photography January 21, 2010 at 2:50 pm #

    I agree with writing it down. Even if you dont plan on creating it any time soon. I always like to have a running list of shooting ideas, locations, and people. This will really help when a client calls and needs some creative ideas.

    Keep up the good work Chase:)

  25. Jim Pitcherella January 21, 2010 at 3:42 pm #

    I have a ball point pen that can light up. They come with different color lights. I chose red to retain some night vision. Doesn't wake up wife. Well maybe sometimes I get a "what are you doing?".

  26. Photobby January 21, 2010 at 3:45 pm #

    So tru! The idea for my personal project came at 70mph on I5 with nothing to wright on, talk into or what not…. The first post goes live tonight, nothing groundbreaking, but to say that within 3 days of getting hit by the though train, I had the first shoot in the can (at 530 am thank you) and the second the following morning (at about 6) Others will follow…

  27. James January 21, 2010 at 4:45 pm #

    Good old alpha brain waves make creative thoughts flow. They probably kick in about that time for you.

  28. Simon January 21, 2010 at 4:50 pm #

    couldn't agree more Chase.

    Some of my best ideas/visions have come at the least likely times… …and many of my best & most personally satisfying work has been born not necessarily from outstanding planning & preparation, but just being ready & open to embrace whatever may come across your path

  29. Tyler L January 21, 2010 at 10:29 pm #

    It's like when you're gaining in altitude and your ears don't pop. Sometimes you forget about them and then, when you aren't expecting it, suddenly "pop," everything is clear.

    For me, it's when I try and fall asleep at night…

  30. Nica Guerrero January 21, 2010 at 11:09 pm #

    Disfruto mucho leyendo este tipo de de post, son constantes recordatorios de que todos podemos ser creativos y debemos dar importancia a nuestras ideas, cuantas personas no hay por allí con un montón de ideas sin realizar? solo hace falta un empujón. A parte de eso y a propósito del post llamado "Respect." me gustaría expresar por esta vía mi sentimiento de solidaridad con el pueblo de Haití que tantas calamidades ha sufrido a lo largo de su historia… Haití, Respect.

  31. Anna Matlak January 22, 2010 at 3:17 am #

    Thank you for the constant motivation. Always at the time I least expect it.

  32. The Bimbo´s Place January 22, 2010 at 4:59 am #

    that's right in another few words, just stay focus in what you want, and be able to always here ans see the signs in life. to be able to take that and turning it into a great concept.

  33. Heinz January 22, 2010 at 6:52 am #

    Yeah, thats exactly how creative ideas come about… just when your mind is not expecting it.

    It hits you like Seagull poop at a sunny day on the beach.

    Good post.

  34. Jamie Orillion January 22, 2010 at 7:08 am #

    well put! At least I'm not the only one!

  35. NotYourAvgJoe January 22, 2010 at 8:04 am #

    I absolutely agree! I one of those self help books a long time ago called THINK AND GROW RICH by Napoleon Hill. One of the things I remember best is that you need to RECOGNIZE OPPORTUNITY WHERE YOU ARE without having to go searching for it.

    I applaud you for acting on your 356am Recognition!

  36. Leonard L Godwin January 22, 2010 at 8:11 am #

    Elizabeth Gilbert gives a nice talk about creativity and the timing (or lack thereof) of the Muses: it's constructive to think of the creative process as two-way, partly coming from within, and partly from outside of yourself. Just showing up and being ready to receive is half the battle. Also, Knowing. Knowing is half the battle as well. Go Joe!

    Here's the talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html

  37. Spencer January 22, 2010 at 10:45 am #

    You have to be careful with some of these ideas though. Some of them sound a whole lot better at 3:AM (AKA after last call) than they do in the light of day. :)

    After a protracted bout of insomnia I thought I had several brilliant ideas for a portrait series, a novel, a screenplay, and the opening licks to what would become the greatest song of all time.

    After deciphering what I had written the next day I realized I had decided to do a portrait study of ear hair, write Mein Kampf Two (subtitled 'Weekend at Bernie's Five"), turned Die Hard into a musical with Queen Latifa playing every part, and for some reason recorded 15 minutes of my self banging a casio keyboard against my guitar while I recited the ingredients of Cheetos at the top of my lungs.

    3AM ideas are great, but they're also why we hire editors.

  38. peter January 23, 2010 at 3:25 am #

    Embrace it and good things happenThat's how we excite ourselves and execute the ideas that sell.

    bpo/kpo process

  39. Joshua January 23, 2010 at 8:12 am #

    Just an update:
    Example – Long day of work + sitting and mindlessly watching VH1 + funny roommates + $20 studio = great images and ideas. Just posted on my site.

  40. JW Stovall January 23, 2010 at 8:59 am #

    I agree. The pen/paper and mp3 are always at the side of my bed. Once my frontal cortex has a chance to rest up and regroup…creativity has a chance:

  41. Nathaniel 'Flannol' Rosa January 23, 2010 at 3:30 pm #

    "When you least expect it, Expect it."

    This quote could well be your legacy :)

    I completely agree man, I run the photography club at my school, and just last week I managed to get the school to give me 20 sketch pads for the kids to record/sketch/stick to/etc anything and everything they think of.

    Keep it up!

  42. Kathryn Wagner January 23, 2010 at 4:35 pm #

    Chase I agree that you have to be ready for an idea to knock you over, and when it does be ready to capture it as good ideas can also be fleeting ones.

    I have begun the routine in the new year of taking a daily planner and recording one creative idea per page, one daily meditation on photography. This practice has definitely helped nurture more of the spontaneous creativity you speak of. Great advice.

  43. Free online Virtual Worlds January 25, 2010 at 11:50 pm #

    Same here! I always keep a recorder with me so I don't forget when my inspiration juices overflow at the wrong moment

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