Last updated: December 2019
Before proceeding to college essay ideas, here’s the idea definition:
An idea is a formulated thought, opinion, understanding, or picture in your mind. Also, it can be a suggestion as to a course of action.
Idea generation is what you do all the time. You generate thoughts in mind, with or without intent. When in school or college, you need to work on project-based learning ideas, classroom ideas, creative school project ideas, etc.
It’s not a problem: most creative project ideas come to you through discussions or brainstorming sessions with teachers and peers.
The problem appears when you need to come up with college essay ideas.
When educators don’t assign any particular topics to write about, most students have brain freeze:
- Where to take essay topics?
- How to know your topic is creative and argumentative enough?
- How to turn your creative ideas into interesting topics for college essays?
We’ve got you covered!
Where Creative Ideas Hide in the Brain
Oh, please don’t say you have no desire to be creative and generate creative ideas by the ton!
But what is creativity?
“Creativity is the intellectual ability to make creations, inventions, and discoveries that brings novel relations, entities, and/or unexpected solutions into existence. It’s a gifted ability of humans in thinking, inference, problem-solving, and product development.” – Yingxu Wang
The question at issue is whether you can cultivate this quality. Or, maybe it’s your doom to remain realistic and analytical, with no proclivity for creativity? Let’s check it out.
Most of you could see this picture before:
Creative concept of the human brain with light bulb ideas
And now, forget it.
That right/left brain distinction – saying that the left-brain is practical and logical, while the right-brain is creative, colorful, and poetic – doesn’t work anymore. (Though it will, probably, never die!) According to the latest findings from cognitive neuroscientists, such distinction doesn’t give the full picture of how creativity appears.
In sober fact, it doesn’t involve a single side of our brain.
Instead, the creative process consists of many interacting cognitive processes and emotions. Depending on the task we implement, different brain regions (both conscious and unconscious) will be responsible for idea generation.
It means that creativity comes not only from nature but nurture as well. So it’s high time for you to stop saying, “I’m not a creative person” every time you are stuck with new ideas.
Everyone can learn to be creative to some degree, though some research would disagree:
- 2009. Kenneth Heilman from Cornell University claims that the brains of artistically creative people have particular characteristics enhancing creativity.
- 2013. Researchers from the University of Helsinki found that musical creativity depends on a particular cluster of genes.
Does it mean you can’t be creative if those genes are absent in your organism?
Nope, it doesn’t. Not all of us are artists, after all. Engineers, marketers, directors, bloggers, doctors — do researchers want to say that all these people are non-creative?
Is Everyone Born Creative?
College essay topics generation doesn’t require any superpowers or congenial talents. But the interesting fact is that mental disorders influence creativity and the process of idea generation:
“Many artistically creative people suffered from traumas, whether psychological or physical ones,” says Szabolcs Keri from the National Institute of Psychiatry and Addictions (Budapest). “Some researchers documented that those abuses influenced the brains and affected the genes and networks participating in creativity.”
Scientists at the Karolinska Institute (Stockholm) found that individuals with bipolar disorder chose professions where creative ideas generation was crucial. Churchill and Hemingway were talented people and famous essay writers, but they both showed bipolar-like patterns, characterized by divergent thinking, never-ending energy, increased self-esteem, and motivation to create.
Winston Churchill and Ernest Hemingway
Also, people with ADHD tend to be creative because their low latent inhibition doesn’t let them filter seemingly irrelevant information around, allowing to interpret it in different, more creative ways. As Steven Johnson, the author of Where New Ideas Come From says,
“Creativity happens when seemingly unrelated existing ideas collide to form new ideas.”
It doesn’t mean we should become mentally disordered to generate college essay ideas like crazy. Having the right genetic makeup is great, but the truth is we all are born creative. But your school may educate it out, so some of us have to “learn” to be creative again.
How to Know If You are Creative
A leading neuroscientist at the University of Iowa, Nancy Andreasen has been studying the creative mind for decades already. Examining both artists and scientists, she explains ideation definition and the roles of nature vs. nurture in creativity:
Long story short, here come her conclusions that help to understand if your brain is creative:
- Creativity level doesn’t depend on your IQ: if you are smart, it doesn’t mean you are highly creative.
- People who are creative work harder than others do on the average: that’s because they do love their work.
- Creatives are adventurous: they take risks and are ready to explore new frontiers.
- Those creative believe in what they do, so they have to confront rejections and doubts all the time, which may lead to pain, depression, or anxiety.
- Many creatives are autodidacts and polymaths.
- They are persistent, even when others are skeptical of their work.
In her article at Forbes, CEO of meQuilibrium Jan Bruce refers to Cade Miles’s thoughts on why creativity matters for entrepreneurs. She writes about how to find out if your creative genius doesn’t sleep:
- You are creative if you implement the right kind of structure.
- Stress and deadlines can inspire you to work.
- Your work is for the purpose, not just desire to win.
- You are ready for changes and are not afraid of them.
- You accept the fact you can be a newbie in some niches.
See you here?
Given that we can “learn” to be creative, multiple studies suggest different ways to help us:
Based on the above, we need to limit the logic to become creative and generate better college essay ideas. All methods describe ways to detach from reality and defeat the force known as “the lizard brain,” critical for our survival in this world.
Lull your logic, and creativity will become your shadow. As CEO at Ideasicle Will Burns says,
“Creativity is what happens when we successfully limit the logic force in our brains.”
Does it work? Let’s see.
What Makes Project Ideas Great
Why do educators ask you to choose essay ideas all alone? They want to check your creative and critical thinking and see the personality behind your persuasive writing. And yet, academic integrity goes a long way too. That is why great college essay topics vary depending on the type of essay.
Your school project idea is great if it has the following five characteristics:
- Relative advantage: people perceive your idea better than they do it with existing standards.
- Compatibility: your idea has some similarities with existing standards for people to understand why it’s worth spreading.
- Complexity: your idea is easy to understand.
- Trialability: your idea is easy to interact with and try out.
- Observability: your idea is clear and highly visible, driving people to discuss and share it. (Example: Banksy’s works)
(Based on the findings of Everett Rodgers, a sociology professor at Ohio State University and an author of Diffusion of Innovation.)
Banksy’s art in Brooklyn
In contexts of generating college essay ideas, you need to come up with something that is:
- (1) better than your previous works;
- (2) related to vital problems;
- (3) formatted in style, with right words and narrative techniques for readers to understand;
- (4) backed up with a solid thesis, arguments, and references, proving that you’re a creative thinker and problem solver;
- (5) addressing to values or beliefs a reader can understand and process.
Choose college essay topics you can address, narrate, draw conclusions, and explain their effect.
How to Come Up with College Essay Ideas
In 2010, designer and musician Alex Cornell tried to overcome creative block and asked famous thinkers to help him by sharing their thoughts on idea generation. This project turned into the book Breakthrough!: 90 Proven Strategies to Overcome Creative Block and Spark Your Imagination, a compendium of approved insight on optimizing the creative process.
Here are some thoughts from the book:
Sam Potts, designer:
- “Have your heart broken. It worked for Rei Kawakubo. You’ll realize the work you’d been doing wasn’t anywhere near your potential.”
Marc Johns, illustrator:
- “Stop thinking like a designer or writer or whatever you are for a minute. Pretend you’re a pastry chef. Pretend you’re an elevator repair contractor. A pilot. A hot dog vendor. How do these people look at the world?”
Daniel Dennett, philosopher:
- “My strategy for getting myself out of a rut is to sit at my desk reminding myself of what the problem is, reviewing my notes, generally filling my head with the issues and terms, and then I just get up and go do something relatively mindless and repetitive.”
Camm Rowland, executive creative director:
- “Drink coffee before going to bed.”
Many famous writers have a habit of drinking coffee: it helps positive thinking and stimulates memory, boosting spirits and motivating us to create.
We decided to follow the lead of Alex and asked two questions to several educators and creative professionals: “How would you define creativity? Do you have any tips for students on generating creative college essay ideas?”
That’s what they think.
Educators Speak About Idea Definition
Olly Richards, a tutor at I Will Teach You a Language:
- “For me, creativity is about using your imagination to find unique and original ways of doing things. For me, the best way to spark creativity is to put away all electronics and get out a blank piece of paper and a pen. Works every time!”
Oliver Antosch, a tutor at Learn With Oliver, agrees:
- “Creative thoughts happen at the most unexpected times. Always keep a pen or smartphone with you to take note!”
Bryan Collins, a writing coach at Become a Writer Today, says:
- “Creativity is the combination of old and new ideas in a way that readers, viewers, and listeners don’t expect. But how to find these ideas? Well look through the works of past creative masters like Seneca, Mozart and Steve Jobs and ask yourself where did they get their ideas from? Then combine what you find with your voice. Tell brave and honest stories about these ideas and share your perspective in a way that your readers, listeners or fans love.”
That’s all well and good, but what can you, a college student or a newbie in the industry, do to become creative? What tricks to try for generating classroom ideas or any other that would help you succeed in studies, careers, and life?
How You Can Generate Essay Topics
First of all, try to understand that idea generation is a process. (Yes, even if it comes to college essay topics.)
Three idea generation models exist today:
- IR3 model from the University of Illinois, consisting of three stages such as Research, Represent, and Refine.
- Borrowing Brilliance model from David Kord Murray, outlining six stages of idea generation, which are Defining, Borrowing, Combining, Incubating, Judging, and Enhancing.
- James Webb Young‘s technique, describing idea generation as simple to state but hard to follow because it requires hard intellectual work.
The third one appears the best fit for students. Its five steps to generating ideas will strike a blow for writing essays, blog articles for marketing, critical precis, and other projects. Also, it can help to develop reading skills for a better knowledge, analysis, and grades.
These five steps are as follows:
Your college life is about working with tons of information that doesn’t seem creative, right? And yet, creative school project ideas come from somewhere. What do you do to generate them?
You do research, collect information, and analyze the correlations between resources. Also, you can borrow ideas from resources with similar problems to get inspiration for new ideas.
So, your first step to idea generation: do research and gain resources.
Now it’s time to work with the material you’ve got. For an idea to take shape, do this:
- Narrow down the best resources from what you’ve found.
- Specify connections between them.
- Think of new connections.
So, your second step to idea generation: look for correlations between the sources you have.
3) Reveal the Subconscious
Here comes the most creative part of your idea generation process: while brainstorming, forget about the subject and let your subconsciousness work.
Techniques to try:
- Brainstorming in a group with peers.
- Mind mapping: use graphics to draw connections between ideas and the information you have.
- Freewriting: take a pen and write the streamline of thoughts; it helps to express your subconscious ideas.
So, your third step to idea generation: step away from the subject and let your subconscious genius work.
4) Reach Your A-Ha Moment
“Just think about it, deeply, and then forget it. An idea will… jump up in your face.” – Don Draper
It’s what James Webb Young calls the a-ha moment when your creative idea appears out of nowhere. Once you forget about the core subject and change perspective, you might get surprised.
How to change perspective:
- Imagine yourself an opossum. Or a pencil. Or Madonna. What would they say on the topic?
- Run in the park, take a shower, sit at some picture and stare at it for a while, whatever.
- Enjoy the process, and don’t be in a hurry. (Now you understand why you should plan your academic writing, don’t you?)
So, your fourth step to idea generation: don’t miss your a-ha moment!
Once the idea strikes you, work on its evaluation and improvement.
Make sure that:
- Its concept fits your core subject.
- Your presentation of the idea won’t look like plagiarism.
- It fits your academic performance. (But no one forbids to improve it, after all.)
So, your final step to idea generation: evaluate and improve it.
More techniques and brainstorming exercises needed to practice idea generation for essays? Check the guide from Ethan Sawyer aka College Essay Guy: he describes seven exercises to help you generate interesting topics to write about in essays.
How to Know Your College Essay Topics are Great
Eric Maloof, a director of International Admission at Trinity University claims that your college essay topic is great if you can answer yes to these questions:
- Do I care about this topic?
- Am I the only person in a class (group, department, etc.) who can communicate this idea?
When thinking about interesting topics to write about, choose something personal: you won’t write an excellent essay if you don’t understand and don’t even care about its topic. Choose essay ideas that tingle through your soul.
Remember about your reader. In the case of college essays, your reader is a teacher who will check dozens of other papers from your peers too. So think about essay ideas that would interest this person, not bore or offend him. Write about something that would help you stand out from the crowd.
Tips on Idea Generation from Famous Creative People
How do famous people describe their process of great idea generation? What techniques do they use?
Stephen King, writer:
From King’s book On Writing
David Lynch, filmmaker, visual artist, musician:
Salvador Dali, surrealist painter:
From 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship
Gary Vaynerchuk, entrepreneur:
“If Twitter didn’t have the restriction of 140 characters, Twitter would be blogging. It would be like everything else. I’m a very big fan of restrictions and think they matter for creative processes.”
From the interview for Lolo
Seth Godin, marketer and public speaker:
More thoughts from Seth: Where do ideas come from?
Bob Dylan, songwriter and singer:
How to Turn Your Creative Ideas in Essay Topics
When the process of idea generation is over, the question appears, “What to do with an idea?”
Now it’s time to turn it into college essay topics!
- Forget about it for a while. Put the idea away for a couple of days to come back with a fresh mind and see if it’s good enough and what can be revised to improve it.
- Reread your notes a few times and cross out everything repeating, secondary, and boring.
- Brainstorm the list of possible titles for your essay about this idea.
- Imagine that you need to tell about each title to a person who doesn’t know you. Do you have enough arguments, proofs, and emotions to communicate it?
- Rank all possible topics by how excited you are to share this essay.
- Take your top two titles and try to write an outline or even a draft for each.
- Evaluate each and choose that one with better arguments, references, and overall message.
Creative College Essay Examples
The theoretical knowledge is good, but it wouldn’t hurt to see real essay examples that follow the criteria of creative essay ideas, right?
The task was to “evaluate a significant experience, risk, achievement, ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.”
Sample 2, extract:
A creative essay on the topic, “Building a Twenty Story Apartment Building:”
The “Baked with Love” essay; the task was to “describe a place or environment where you feel perfectly content.”
More creative college essay examples here (all the above samples are from there):
And here’s more great stuff to read and start generating great college essay ideas right now:
We couldn’t ignore our bloggers here at 99Papers, so we asked them to share tips on generating ideas too. Just for your inspiration and motivation to not be afraid of challenges, learn new things, and be creative in college essay ideas, work, and personal life.
By Lesley Vos