How to jumpstart your next project or idea
Have you ever had an idea or a project that you just couldn’t start?
It may feel like a mental or writer’s block. It might feel like overwhelm, confusion, paralysis. Of course, it’s awesome when we have the creative juices flowing and you can’t write your ideas and thoughts down fast enough, right?
But what about those other times where you simply draw a blank–that formidable challenge of starting from zero, creating something from nothing?
What’s the answer?
Don’t create something from nothing.
Let me explain…
The idea of creating something from nothing is a mistaken idea. Much like the idea that energy of the universe is constant or energy can neither be created or destroyed, you are not creating from nothing. No matter what idea or project you have planned, that idea/project is related to something you’ve already done–for the simple reason that it came from you. Even on the really off chance that this new idea of yours has no relation to your past work, that idea of yours isn’t original. It is highly likely someone has thought it, experimented with it, maybe even done it.
Mark Twain said, “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”
So if no idea is original (and I would say that this includes projects), why subject yourself to a blank page? Why try to find the willpower to overcome your inability to start?
Here’s a trick I learned that has served me well (When I remember to do it. Good thing I’m writing it in a blog to remind myself).
Say you have an idea for an article and when you sit yourself down to write it, that forlorn blank line of the cursor keeps blinking and blinking… and you got nothing. It’s daunting, it’s frustrating… you know once you get going, you could probably keep going but that darn cursor just keeps blinking!
The way to bypass that “nothing” is to fill that page–and it doesn’t have to be your words. You just have to put a mess of related words onto a page. Here are some ways to find those words (you can mix and match):
1) Look up similar or related articles and news (pictures and images can be helpful too, if you’re a visual person)
2) Find related quotes or anecdotes
3) Look up your past work
From any or all of the sources, copy and paste text that catch your eye (related to your idea). WARNING: It will look like a mess!
Now, reread that “mess of words”. There will be junk. More often than not, your brain will start organizing those words, finding patterns, making associations, combining thoughts. I start organizing at the top of the page and put the junk or potential junk at the bottom of the page. Mind you, I’m not at all advocating for plagiarism! This is simply like brainstorming backwards–instead of ideas coming from your brain, ideas are going into it.
This “getting through the junk to get the good stuff” is similar to a technique used in fiction writing called “free writing” or “stream of consciousness” where you write anything that comes to your mind without regard to grammar, spelling, logic. Designers are also known to do something similar except instead of making a mess of text, they make a mess of related images.
What’s great about this process is that it separates the act of creating from organizing. It is my sense that the brain struggles with doing both at the same time. Think about it. Creativity is not a linear process, yet the exercise of writing an article forces you to put your ideas in an organized, linear sequence! Why? Simply because that that’s how people read. But it is NOT how we think. No wonder why putting thought to paper can be so challenging!
Another benefit of using this technique is that it kind of tricks your brain into thinking, “I’m actually accomplishing something.” You’re not staring at a blank page anymore! (It’s not a trick actually, because by doing this technique you’re much further in your process than you were before!)
This technique isn’t just useful for writing, it’s also useful for starting projects (which will likely involve some a writing of a plan instead of prose). In this version of the technique, I look up similar or related projects, either my previous ones or others you’ve researched. If there’s text about steps that were taken, copy those down. Write concepts. Start simply describing what you’ve found in your research about how others have done xyz project. Sometimes, I intentionally write this stuff on non-lined paper because it’s more freeing. When you’re done (or tired) of creating your mess, THEN you can start evaluating it and seeing what makes sense. For design projects that don’t involve words, start collecting images and words to make your “mess”.
It’s a super simple concept but it seems to work. Create a mess, then organize it.
Whether you’re writing a new blog post or a book, composing a speech, designing a website, developing a product, you name it… just remember that you don’t have to create something out of that dreaded nothing.
There may not be such a thing as an original idea, but there are MANY original ways to combine ideas and present ideas.
What kind of idea or project has been stumping you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.