Step one: finish whatever you want to write in one sitting. Step two: submit it to wherever (class, online blog). Step three: profit? In those rare instances where inspiration completely blows us away with the most mind-boggling ideas, yes that may create something nice, but more often than not, your first idea won’t be your best idea. Plus, can you rely on a spontaneous moment to appear before something’s due? Absolutely not.
Take this quote from designer Tom Johnson’s article, “Designers are Full of Bad Ideas,” in which he states, “What makes our creative juices less viscous than the average Jane? After all... All of my ideas are bad. The answer, dear reader, is that they come to us because we know how to find a good idea.” Professionals have plenty of bad ideas, but they understand how to find that one idea that works. It’s a process that takes time to master and understand, but it’s invaluable.
You might remember that one exercise that your 3rd grade English teacher told you about, something about brainstorming. I personally remember being taught its concepts, but once it was touched on, I can’t recall another instance where I’ve ever had an instructor explain how vital something like this is. It wasn’t until I took classes with a very specific professor (some of you taking any sort of design classes probably know this person) that I found myself having to actively remember the importance of the skill, but since I had been through an education system that teaches students what to remember on an upcoming test, I found myself unequipped to do something as simple as plan a creative project. Believe it or not, this professor had to teach college students how to brainstorm.
Brainstorming isn’t supposed to be difficult, but convincing yourself it’s necessary is. Why not go with your first idea and just polish that until it looks nice? Tell that to your future self three days from now when you can’t believe how much you dislike your story about a character who’s got a tragic backstory and goes on a quest and meets a comic relief character and a love interest along the way. More often than not, your first idea sucks. Don’t go with it. Don’t go with your second idea either. Your third probably won’t cut it either.
With that being said, don’t throw those ideas away. What you’ve just created is a list. It’s a short list, but it’s a list of things that don’t work. The article by Blake Thorne I’ve cited below brings attention to a small passage in Edison: His Life and Inventions in which Thomas Edison had found himself 9,000 failed attempts deep in an experiment with a battery, but instead of seeing those failed experiments as just that, failures, he saw them as 9,000 ideas that don’t work. If you’ve got a list of bad ideas, you’ve got a list of things to avoid (hopefully you don’t have thousands of bad ideas for your next poetry assignment, but hey, I don’t control how deeply you want to brainstorm).
Don’t stop at three ideas and pick from them. I’ve got classes that make it a requirement to have at least 15 ideas before I can settle on one of them. When I mean ideas, I mean just that. I’m not saying you should have a full paragraph for each idea, a sentence will do just fine. Don’t feel ashamed if your idea is dumb or stupid either, no one else has to see your ideas. Write your ideas for the sake of writing them, throw your spaghetti at the wall, something’s bound to stick. Get all of your bad ideas out before you find the good one, or combine some of your bad ideas and make a good one.
Remember that professor I mentioned before? This is exactly what he’s trying to teach to his students. He’s told us that an amateur waits for inspiration, but a professional creates inspiration. Brainstorming is designed to elongate the creative process, but it’s doing so for a reason, it’s creating that moment of inspiration so you don’t have to rely on that spontaneous moment, you can create it yourself.
When writing this post, I went through a list of ideas on what to write about before I finally settled on this one (how to identify good/bad criticism and where to find it, how to find your creative space the omnipresence of the hero’s journey, the list goes on). This article wasn’t my first idea, but after sifting through some ideas I wasn’t sure about, I settled on talking about the one that stresses the importance of sifting through ideas. How ironic.
I’ve listed both articles I’ve mentioned below. Give them a read, you might learn something neat.
Best of luck on your next project!