I never wanted to write a blog post about procrastination, because, I mean, does the world really need another blog post about procrastination?
Yet, for some reason I wrote a Quora answer on beating procrastination and won 46 upvotes. That was my first answer with more than 3 upvotes and the first small victory on Quora.
Was my answer absolutely adorable? Nope. Did I write something revolutionary? Not really. I compiled a whole bunch of ideas from many different places into something kinda cool. It resonated with people.
And it got me thinking how often I refuse to write about “trivial”stuff. I want to write about big ideas. I want to create something original, something that the world hasn’t yet seen. Then I do some research and realize that it has all been said and done. Many times. And does the world really need another post on XYZ? It’s all been said, why even bother?
My creative practice on writing 10 ideas daily helped a lot. I created more and published more. I became more creative and I learned more about the readers. I learned how to use old, known ideas and create something worth reading. I also learned that THERE IS a point in writing about ordinary stuff and why the world needs it.
Wanna hear more? Let’s dive into it.
1. Give a credit and your own insight.
One comedian said that all jokes were invented in Ancient Greece. All we’re doing is recycling them over and over. Of course, ancient Greeks could not come up with jokes about iPhone and Justin Beiber, but they definitely came up with tons of ways to structure a joke. Examples of recycling old ideas are numerous. Sooner or later you will end up using the idea that someone else has created. Don’t be discouraged. That’s perfectly fine.
If you decide to write about someone else’s idea, first give a proper credit to the author. It doesn’t have to be a eulogy. Keep it simple. “I read this idea in book XYZ and I think it is amazing.” “The author of this idea is Brene Brown, and today I would like to share it with you.” That is the first step.
Once you explain where the idea comes from, give your own insight about it. What Brene created was really good, but if you simply state or cite what she did, your work will be vague and boring. I know you can do better. Why don’t you provide your own insight on a topic? What did you do to implement this idea? Why this particular idea made you curious, among many others?
Ideas #2, #3 and #4 will give you some actionable steps on how to add more of your perspective to an existing idea. But first, credit the idea to the author.
2. Tell the idea in your voice.
I know, web is full of articles about “finding your voice” (here is a good one). Thus this advice may not seem easy. “What if I haven’t found my voice yet?” I don’t know, perhaps I haven’t found mine either. It’s a life-long process. But don’t sweat it too much. The core of this idea is: tell it in your own way, through your own lens.
How would you describe it to your best friend? Or to your mom? Or to a child? Or to your younger self? Can you write it in a form of dialog? Or a poem? Or a stick figure comic? Flowchart? Infographic? You have a unique set of experiences. How do YOU see the idea?
3. Examples, examples, examples.
Quora is full of questions: “Can you provide some examples of XYZ?” Ideas are important, but examples are indispensable. We learn and remember through the examples. If someone else formulated the idea, you can build upon it by making it more digestible. By providing the examples.
Malcolm Gladwell uses a magic formula: ideas + examples. He writes about major, novel, counter-intuitive ideas, but he always ties them to the examples. These are the stories about the people all around the world, so detailed and compelling that you cannot help but remember the idea and tell your friends and your grandma about it. I still remember the stories from “Outliers”, the one about Beatles playing in Hamburg, the one about Bill Gates, the one about rice fields in China and, maybe the most beautiful of all, the life story of his mom. And I exactly know which idea each one of them illustrates.
If you provide an idea without an example, people will say “Aha!” and forget it soon. If you write a story without a strong idea as a pivot, say about how you and your two buddies got drunk in downtown, no one will care. If you combine the idea with a story as an example, magic will happen. People will understand, relate and remember.
4. No one can compete with your own story.
Examples can be anyone’s stories, as long as they align with the idea. Let’s go one step further. How about your own stories? Do you have a personal story, example, lesson, small epiphany related to the idea? Great, tell us more. We have all heard about the life and times of Steve Jobs. We are hungry to read something new. Something fresh. Like… your own story.
It may seem like nothing special. But it is unique. It is yours. My friend Scott wrote about the idea of getting yourself out there through his own story about mowing lawns in his neighborhood. Simple, effective and something we can all identify with. A few months ago I wrote about the storm in Washington and the day spent without the power. It served as a stage for the story about gratitude. And about how much we rely on technology.
Even if you feel that everything has been said, I am sure that you have unique (and untold) stories that can touch people’s hearts and make the ideas more clear.
5. Not everyone has heard of it.
We tend to overestimate how well people are informed about something we’re passionate about. The more we know it seems the world knows more. If I read, say, a few books on personal finances and adopt basic concepts, I will start considering them as perfectly normal. Everyone knows it, right? Wrong. Most of the people don’t know, just like I didn’t a few months ago. Conveying an old idea to a new audience is an important endeavor.
Maria Popova from Brain Pickings does exactly that. She distills big ideas from epic books, talks, works of art. She chooses the most interesting and innovative parts, enriches them with her own insights, connects them to other big ideas and creates the unique pieces of writing. Brain Pickings is a terrific place to diversify your creative library.
Can you do something similar? Can you write your favorite ideas from the book that shaped who you are? What is the idea that changed your life? Don’t be too stressed about who came up with it. Focus on who can benefit from it.
6. People need frequent reminders.
First time when I stumbled upon Leo Babauta’s web site Zen Habits, something magical happened. At that time I felt pretty bad about myself and life in general. Imagine me depressed, resentful, distracted, opening Zen Habits and reading: “BREATHE.” Surprised, confused and somewhat relieved, I clicked on “BREATHE.” It was a beautiful post. “Breathing will save your life,” Leo said. My mind was blown. With something that simple. Did I know that I am supposed to breathe? Absolutely. Was it Leo’s invention? Absolutely not. I just needed a reminder. And it came at the exactly right moment.
Most ideas and concepts have been around for a while. Most of them are logical and people are aware of them. However, the everyday hassle makes people forget. People need reminders. Imagine your reader. Write with an intention to create a coincidence for him or her. We rarely crave something super-original. More often, we want someone to tell us that everything will be OK and that we are not alone.
7. Steal like an artist.
As we already said, nothing is completely original. Some of the best artists, knowing this principle, built upon the other people’s work. They used pieces of inspiration from here and there, mixed, matched, combined, transformed and improved. Picasso said that “good artists copy, but great artists steal”. How to know the difference? Here is how Austin Kleon, the author of the book “Steal Like an Artist” summarized it:
You’ve got the point. Honor the original source. Explore and learn more. Collect many idea. Combine. Add your own twist.
(Watch Austin Kleon’s great TED talk.)
Here are a few more things you can do to steal like an artist.
8. Come up with 10 ideas.
(I know, I am prescribing 10-idea therapy for everything. But it works!) Push yourself to create 10 ideas that build upon someone else’s work. We already talked about the examples (idea #3) and your own stories (idea #4). Let’s say you want to write a post about how meditation practice is very beneficial. (Nothing new, there are about bajilion posts about it already.) But you can add something more specific. And mold it into the list of 10 ideas so that busy, lazy reader can get the most out of it. For instance:
10 ways to get most out of your meditation practice.
10 unexpected ways to make your meditation more powerful.
Don’t have time to meditate? These 10 ideas/techniques/tips will change your mind.
10 ways in which meditation practice will benefit your work performance/productivity/relationships/whatever.
10 things that helped me establish meditation practice (and how you can do it, too).
I meditated every day for 1 year. Here are 10 lessons I learned.
Discover which type of meditation is most suitable for you based on your favorite book/workout/music/whatever.
10 reasons why your meditation habit cannot stick.
10 things most people don’t know about the meditation.
10 mantras that will make your meditation experience delightful.
(Feel free to steal from this pile.) Ten ideas is a lot. You will have to push yourself. You will have to make your creative muscles sweat. It will be uncomfortable. But you’ll end up creating something valuable. You will remix, transform, instill your own experience and come up with something original, based on not-so-novel idea.
9. Add some idea sex to it.
Idea sex is a pleasurable activity, when two (or more) old ideas get combined into the new, more powerful idea. Wanna write about meditation? And about productivity? Why don’t you combine the two and write how meditation can help you be more productive? (See the idea #8.) I did something similar in my post “10 Creative Ways to Make Your Inner Gremlin Shut Up”. I write about creativity a lot. And I wanted to tackle the theme of inner critic. So I combined the two and wrote about how your creativity can help you against your inner critic. Probably no one has written a similar post.
List your ideas. Do it frequently and for longer periods of time. Steal ideas worth stealing. Then play Marvin Gaye and light the candles. Make your ideas have sex. Combine. Remix. Connect. Laugh. Many combinations will be silly. But some will be stellar. Those are the ones you should pursue.
10. Do it with love.
Simon Sinek said: “People don’t buy what you do, but why you do it.” So do it with love. And because of love. Not because it’s trendy or has a potential to go viral. But because it makes you feel alive. And when you feel alive, you can make others feel alive. Infuse your work with love and good vibes. We’ll notice. We’ll feel loved, alive and empowered. We won’t care how original it is.
Elizabeth Gilbert said that we don’t respond to the originality, but to authenticity and humanity behind the creation. What could be better way to wrap this post up?
I hope this post will inspire you to go and create something right now. Even if everything has been said, it hasn’t been said by you. Please, please, tell us more.
P. S. Cookie of Wisdom: “Art is theft.” Picasso ((Tweet this!))