How to get lots of ideas for side projects and writing

23 November 2020
23 Nov 2020

People ask me how I get so many ideas for interesting side projects and blog posts.

I think the best way to describe my growth as a writer/maker over time is that I’ve become more efficient at discovering and refining my own ideas.

There are always ideas floating around in your brain. Sometimes, it comes to you out of the blue in the shower. Sometimes, you’re reading the news over dinner and a particular combination of words sets off a lightbulb. Sometimes, you’re reading and a metaphor resonates with you, so you contemplate on it in the hopes that it leads to an interesting perspective on something else. The key is to pay attention to your own wandering mind, notice when good ideas pass by in your mind for a split second, and grab a hold of it and pin it down on your mental desk and don’t let go, until you can expand that idea into something more interesting or valuable.

There are fundamentally two knobs you can turn in the imaginary faucet of ideas.

The first is your creative input. This is a measure of the diversity and volume of interesting stories, knowledge, music, ideas, and advice you hear regularly. More and more, interesting ideas come to me as a combination of something I read or learned before, and an interesting metaphor or perspective I hear in the moment. The more quality, creative content you consume, the more source material you have from which your brain can synthesize new creative ideas. The diversity of content matters here. You’re going to have much better luck producing creative ideas when you combine knowledge or stories about completely different, unrelated topics, than by combining related existing ideas with each other.

The second knob is your creative efficiency, which I define as the fraction of interesting ideas that may occur to you, that you capitalize on. The human mind has tens of thousands of thoughts a day. Because of that staggering volume, most of the time, we’re trained to tune things out and dismiss internal mental side-conversations. But I think prolific creatives are able to counteract that urge to stay focused and hook onto an interesting ideas whenever it passes them by, and then learn to develop it into an insight or a piece of work. Lots of writers I talk to who are starting out tell me that they have ideas that are “mildly interesting” – not completely obvious, but not insightful. The best writers and artists and storytellers have a skill of developing these mildly-interesting ideas and stories into something more profound or valuable, and I think this is a skill that comes only with practice.

Growth as a writer

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