It's ideation time!
I wanted to approach the topic of ideas from a writer's point of view. You see I first started writing this blogpost last week, hot on the heels of my article about getting started in Web3 as a content creator. I felt in the zone after publishing the piece and I thought it would be beneficial to share some insight into how I come up with these writing ideas of mine. But first let's revisit where I was not so very long ago...
You see, a few days before I posted that article, I felt dried up. For a split moment, I almost allowed myself to fall victim to the dreaded Impostor syndrome. You know, that feeling you get when you've put yourself out there, you're doing your thing, setting your rhythm, when all of a sudden you begin to doubt your worth. I don't belong here with the likes of such and such. I'll never write or post anything worthwhile again...
What happened next you ask?
Two things happened:
First of all, I caught myself in the act of thinking these silly thoughts and told myself to snap out of it immediately. I took a moment to look back at my previous posts and at my follower engagements and I realised: No, I'm not an impostor. I know what I'm talking about, I'm here to bring value to others and certain people appreciate that. If I've managed before, I'll do it again.
The second thing is that I cooled off a while and focused on something else. I trusted the process. An idea would arrive. It always had before, up until then. And that's what happened. At 11pm. In bed. Half asleep. Just a small fleeting idea, a passing thought, but I caught the bugger and made sure to write it down, however nonsensical it was.
One of my favourite writing idea anecdotes (not mine, but one that left a mark on me) is that of Gabriel García Márquez. As he was driving his family to Acapulco for a holiday an idea hit him, an idea so strong that he immediately turned the car around and brought his family back home so that he could work out his idea. He sold the car to finance his project and set out to write every single day. The writing process took much longer than anticipated and for a while his family was forced to ask for credit from their butcher, baker and landlord. After 18 months, García Márquez held in his hands the manuscript of what would later be known as one of the most important and influential pieces of Latin American literature: One Hundred Years of Solitude.
This backstory is even more powerful if you've read the book. It's a beast of a book, a true classic. This anecdote props me up me in times of self-doubt. It reminds me to trust the process.
So what is this process. I suppose it's different for everyone but here's what's working for me at the moment.
Capture - We are bombarded by information, whether that be in the physical world, or in your mind. Our eyes, ears, mouths, noses and skin (and whatever your 6th sense may be), are submerged by a constant barrage of information. Sometimes you have control of what you want to feed your senses, other times not. Sometimes these pieces of information can combine and spark an idea in your brain. Capture it. Write it down. On paper, in your phone, wherever. Just put it somewhere where you can come back to it later.
Organise - Some people are more organised than others. I tend to go for a "controlled chaos" environment. Basically, I let things percolate and get messy, within their confined boxes. But I try my best to keep those boxes tidy. The big picture looks neat and calm, and if I need inspiration, I know which box to look into. So in practise, that means going through my idea captures every now and them, digitising them (if necessary) and filing them in the correct box. I find that Evernote works very well for capturing, filtering and organising data. You can get so much value from their free version.
Collide - This is one of the key parts to the process. Thoughts collide, like 2 atoms and create something entirely new in itself. You can feel this itching away in your head, it's almost there and then suddenly: I need thought X and thought Y. Once again, write it down for later, or if possible, move straight onto the next part.
Action - When you've got the collision moment, you need to take action as soon as possible, preferably immediately if circumstances permit. This is a wonderful moment when the magic is in the air. Just write, no matter how messy or poorly structured. There's plenty of time and space to fix it in editing. Jodi Picoult, author of 27 novels, once said: “You can always edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank page.”
Structure - OK, we've done a great job up until now. We've taken separate intangible ideas out of the ether, combined them and transposed the result into legible text (hopefully). If you're new to writing, I'd recommend taking a break at this point. Come back fresh later in the day, or maybe even tomorrow. More experienced writers might be able to barge straight into this final part of the process. Either way, the goal is to approach this part from a more methodical point of view. The content is there, we just need to tidy it up and give it its final structure. This requires a different mindset altogether, and unless you're able to switch brain hemispheres at the blink of an eye, a break in between writing sessions is usually the best trigger for a reset.
Stephen King shares a similar philosophy to my Collision part of the process. He sums it up in his own unique way in his memoir On Writing:
"Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up."
Let's talk about scale. Ideas scale. From a single Tweet to a multimillion book and movie series like Harry Potter, it all comes back to having a thought and acting upon it. The process I've laid out can essentially be scaled up and down depending on the size of your idea. A common hurdle many writers face is setting the wrong scale for their content. They may believe they have the next big blockbuster movie lined up in their head but when pen hits paper, they can barely squeeze out more than a few chapters.
I think the trick is to start small and see how the idea pans out. Does it ride shotgun by your side as you progress from tweet, to thread, to blogpost and beyond? Is it exhausted after a short burst of flash fiction? Maybe it bids you farewell after one article but promises to come back and revisit once you've captured some more thoughts.
Understanding that all ideas are built differently, capturing them but also allowing them space and time to play in their own boxes, and acting consistently are the keys to staying on top of your game and getting a feel for scale. Once you have a system up and running, keep to it, revisit your ideas, and the scale should play out by itself.
With that being said, here's a simple measuring tool to see how your idea scales. If you think it doesn't have enough legs to meet the criteria, scale it back a step or two.
- Small idea - tweet
- Larger idea - tweet thread
- Even larger idea - blogpost
- Even bigger larger idea - blogpost series
- Next lever bigger idea - this is getting big, you might even consider a book!
The more you respect and understand the process, the better you can both filter and capture high quality ideas. Your sensitivity to high quality ideas will increase and eventually a contender will rise. As Victor Hugo remarked: "Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come."
Time for some reflection.
It may seem trivial for me to stand here on my pedestal and throw words of wisdom at you like confetti, oh poor struggling writer, but the reality is that it's taken a lot of practise, struggle and introspection to arrive at this place where I can identify and trust my own process. One thing I've learnt to do is be more aware of the moment/stage of the process that I'm currently in. As the mind is so complex and multidimensional, you may also be working out multiple processes at the same time. Let that ride, trust it, and just focus on what you're currently doing.
I've also been teaching myself to not be a perfectionist. Trying to get things perfect can be such an impediment to progress. So I'm trying to push on, no matter how hard it is. I think: What skills am I lacking? How can I do this part better? Instead of being frustrated, I embrace the challenge and look forward to incorporating new skills into my process. As you follow my posts, you'll likely see new formatting styles, different logos, etc. It's all part of the process. A good example is to look at a successful YouTuber's earlier videos. If they put in the work and grew their channel themselves then you'll usually notice many improvements along the way, from thumbnails to lighting, better audio, sharper backgrounds, even the descriptions in the video's metadata. These are things that you pick up along the way and if you can trick your mind to not worry about being perfect from the get go but appreciate the progress, you're likely to last longer and build more stamina.
Finally, the structure part at the end is probably the most satisfying part of the process, for 2 reasons. First of all, I'm an organised person who likes to have things done, so bringing the mess into structure is cathartic.
More importantly however is the fact that by this point, my trust in the process has paid off. When you're in the process, or going through moments of Impostor Syndrome, it can be hard to believe in your system. The feelings of self doubt can block access to your reservoir of captured ideas and filter out new opportunities. Letting go of this negativity, and allowing trust in the process liberates you to get back to work. Bit by bit, the ideas build out and before you know it, you're editing a real piece of work, provided to you by your own process.
Has the recent crypto crash been hard for you? I must admit this was one of the crazier ones I've seen as a top 10 ecosystem seemingly imploded in a matter of hours and was a bitter pill to swallow for many investors. On a positive note, it's been really helpful seeing so many more experienced crypto natives offer direct support for people effected by the crash. The crypto and web3 community is strong and will prevail!
Whether you're a seasoned veteran or budding newbie, I hope this article brought some value and useful insights to you. As I wrote before, every writer, artist, creator, etc. is different and works by their own process. One thing I've come to see is that even the best of the best have their moments of impostor syndrome. Taking time to think critically about your process and learning to identify where you are in that system at any given time can be a useful tool for those moments of self-doubt or lack of motivation.
We all go through our struggles, so know that you are not alone. I believe in you!
Signing off for now,
Jase - Digital Media Freelancer
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