By Steven Pressfield
Published: March 5, 2014
Herewith, ten idiosyncratic observations on the subject of generating ideas.
1. Ideas seem to come by themselves, unbidden.
In certain careers that I’ve spent time in—advertising and the movie business, for example—I’ve labored under conditions where you have to produce on demand. It’s hard. It’s do-able, but it’s never really worked for me. I can’t press. It’s hard for me to grind ‘em out.
2. Ideas seem to come in off-moments.
They appear when the brain is turned off. For me that’s when I’m half asleep, pre-dawn or tossing in the middle of the night; when I’m in the shower or shaving, or driving on the freeway.
3. Ideas don’t arrive with noisy fanfare.
Even the giant ideas, like those for books that will take three years to write, appear as part of a stream of other thoughts, many of which are mundane. The blockbuster idea is just one notion out of 150, or 1050, that you have through the day. “Gee, I need to pick up my dry cleaning.” Then, “Let’s write Moby Dick.”
4. Ideas are coming in all day.
I was on a farm in Idaho once, in a gigantic underground bunker where potatoes were being sorted on an assembly line. Farm kids stood by a conveyor belt, under the lights, while thousands of potatoes tumbled past every hour. That’s what ideas feel like to me. They’re always there. The trick is training yourself to notice.
5. Good ideas have a feel to them.
The kids in Idaho were sorting the potatoes. Their job was to pick out the good ones. It was amazing to watch their hands fly. They kicked the bad ones out and guided the good ones through.
A good idea has a feel to it like a potato. You can tell a winner. A big idea feels meaty and russet. You can sense it.
6. Resistance appears .0001 of a second after a good idea.
Resistance wants you to dismiss that good idea. The voice in your head will say: “That idea? Worthless. I’ve seen that one a million times.”
Suppose you do notice the idea. Resistance will try to make you forget it. “Ooh, you’re right, that is a good one. No need to make a note though. I’m sure you’ll remember it.”
Posted in Writing Wednesdays
ADDITIONAL READING » ON WRITING
by Mamet, David
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by Phillips, Larry W.
Papa never actually sat down and wrote a book about writing. Rather, editor Larry Phillips has compiled 140 pages of hard-core Hemingwayisms from the author’s books, stories, and letters. Great material, particularly the fragments of correspondence to Scott Fitzgerald.
by Lukeman, Noah
As an agent and editor, Noah Lukeman read thousands of manuscripts from aspiring writers. He got to where he could tell in the first five pages if a submission was worth his time. In this gem of a book, he tells you the most common mistakes writers make—and how to eradicate them from your manuscript.
by Williams, Nick
A no-nonsense how-to manual and psych-yourself-up kit, for those of us who sometimes need a swift kick in the butt to get us going.
by Steinbeck, John
When he was writing East of Eden, Steinbeck kept a journal—just a few pages each morning, which he’d scribble as a kind of warm-up before turning to the actual manuscript. Fascinating insights into the writer’s life, inside and outside the covers of a book.
by McKee, Robert
I always say that McKee is not only the best teacher of writing I’ve ever seen, but the best teacher of anything. I’ve taken this three-day intensive course twice—and I’ll take it again. Yes, McKee has been spoofed (in the movie Adaptation) and lionized (in a New Yorker profile.) But that’s because he’s the best. Full disclosure: McKee and I are friends. McKee wrote the foreword for The War of Art. McKee teaches this class in cities all over the U.S. and Europe, even as far away as Israel and Singapore.
by McKee, Robert
This is the book that goes with Robert McKee’s Story Seminar. Terrific for writers in all media, but take the “live” McKee first. You’ll get more out of the book if you’ve heard the man deliver his stuff in-person.