It’s a running joke on writers that what they fear most is a blank page. Now I’m not a writer, at least not yet, but there already seems to be some truth to that joke.
I’ve recently started writing and already I have a fear of running out of ideas. There haven’t been many blank page moments, yet, but that’s because it’s less than three months since I started.
Nevertheless I often get a pang to my stomach just thinking of having nothing to say. There is also so much to read online, with people having the most amazing life experiences that I fear I will never match up.
We probably forget to take into consideration that what we read in a given day is a collection of many lifetimes of stories. Even if I’m honest with myself, I realize that my life is full of stories that no one has ever heard. You’d like them, I bet.
Why do you need to come up with ideas?
Not everyone is a writer, works in advertising or gets paid specifically for coming up with ideas. What we often don’t realize is that the need to flex the idea muscle is a basic skill that everyone stands to benefit from improving.
My job has never been to come up with ideas, at least it doesn’t say so in the job requirements, but I have made most of the benefits to the companies I’ve worked for by doing exactly that. They could be ideas for process improvements, ideas for taking up new software tools, no-meeting Wednesdays and so forth. Humans, I’ve also come to believe, yearn for change. And to change we usually start with an idea of some sort.
Some companies even incentivize new ideas. My mother used to work for a company, where if she could automate or make redundant any part of her job, she would be paid the equivalent yearly salary corresponding to the percentage of her job she made redundant. There’s an idea worth having, I’d say.
This is probably where I should insert the 10 item bullet list of ways to come up with ideas. Sorry, still working on that. Instead, I use this fear to help me write. It’s similar to what I wrote earlier about using my bad days to fuel my good days. Maybe it doesn’t sound like the healthiest way to do things, but it works for me.
Coming up with a good idea
The thing is, ideas are a dime a dozen. Coming up with an idea is also vastly overrated. Having a good idea is what you should be aiming for. They’re everywhere and nowhere. Most seem to come out of the blue. Of course they don’t, instead they filter through your brain from what you experience and show up on your mental doorstep.
Where do my ideas come from? Do I sit down, think real hard and make something up on the spot? Maybe novelists do that, I don’t. Mostly my brain brings me stuff to think about and if it makes sense, I’ll try that. Often it doesn’t work out, then I’ll try again and maybe that time it’ll be better. Or I’ll bore everyone to death, myself included. Except when I think I’m awesome, which is often. It’s a whole thing.
My stories and ideas are usually a melding pot of my own experiences and things I’ve read or heard. I have a theory most ideas are like that. I also have a theory that’s why people love living in a place like New York. More chances of ideas colliding. James Altucher calls this idea sex.
The idea (pun intended) is that most good ideas are a combination of two or more different ones. Using Altucher’s suggestion of making two different lists of things and combining them, I came up with an example so you have at least one tool if you are completely out of ideas.
It’s easy to see a few decent combinations there. Many are bad, really bad. Water resistant tech is attractive enough, and soap for puppies has got to have a huge market, but I’m not entirely sold on the Anime themed headphones. But then I’m not the target demographic for that, even though there apparently seems to be one. It’s on Instagram, so it must be in, right?
An idea for you
I’ll leave you with one bit of advice, in the form of an idea. Make an effort to flex the idea muscle everyday. Decide up front what the commitment is going to be. Don’t set out to come up with 100 ideas everyday to begin with. Start with something you can sustain indefinitely and build on.
If you use a journal or notebook, you can write your ideas there. I have horrible longhand so I use Evernote personally. Here is my daily idea ritual:
- Decide the category of ideas (this is one idea in and of itself)
- Come up with five ideas for that category
- Repeat daily
This has tremendous benefits. For one, you will never run out of ideas, since you already have a whole stock saved up. Second, you’re idea muscle will be so strong that it will be easy to come up with new ideas on the spot. In different categories.
But as with most rituals and habits, this only works if you practice it. So I urge you to try. Set a goal for 30 days of a consecutive streak where you come up with five ideas in different categories. You can use the same category every now and then. “Things I’m grateful for” is a popular one of mine that I go to when I’m not feeling inspired to come up with different themed headphones.
Coming up with new ideas should be easy. And the way to get to there is to practice. Daily practice of less than a minute can have a huge benefit for your career down the road.