Home again after a weekend of traveling to speak at a conference. I talked to authors about trusting themselves to come up with ideas that really matter to them. Last week I wrote about trusting that the ideas will show up when you are ready for them and sometimes you need to quit hoarding them, quit trying to keep them in a cage, and just let them fly.
This week I’m thinking about how to make ideas better. Is there a way to get a better idea from the original inspiration?
I have two different answers.
For book ideas, it’s often said that there are really only a limited number of plots to choose from. Boy meets girl, hero’s journey, man against nature, etc. Where writers excel is when they take the limited number of plots and seek to form a fresh idea upon that structure (many authors I know start with a fresh idea and then shape that idea into something that fits into an accepted story idea structure). We see this happen all the time in Hollywood, in bestselling novels, in plays, in comic strips, even in our daily lives.
For business ideas, it’s about figuring out how what you love to do can meet the needs of your customer. If you produced a product or service, who would buy it? Who would benefit from it?
Any kind of idea needs a R&D phase, in which you spend time doing research—reading, thinking, gathering info—and then a time for development—sorting, cataloging, recording, reviewing.
You can do this in any order you like, but in case you’re looking for a takeaway:
1. Read widely. Dig deep, find the internal structure of any problem you’re trying to solve (be it a plot or business problem) and don’t limit your influences. Go outside of your familiar sources, try to think about the problem or the idea you want to bloom in a way you’ve never thought of before.
2. Take copious notes and cross-reference, stick up post-it notes, record your voice reading the notes. Then cram, as if you’re preparing to take an exam. Review it all, over and over until you think you may not ever think of anything else ever again.
3. Walk away. Get out of the building. Do something else. Don’t think about what you are trying to find. Don’t focus on it any longer. Think of something completely different. Mow the lawn. Do dishes. Go for a walk.
And that’s it.
A framework. Not a limitation or a guide, but an inspiration.
What idea do you want to make better?
Go do something with it today.