Year of Ideas: The Conclusion

Boy, do I feel stupid today. Remember that article on passwords that I wrote and posted yesterday? It was supposed to be for today. I forgot to set the schedule for it, so it posted when I hit “Publish.” I realized it was going to post right then as I was waiting for the computer to let me do something else.


So, on to other things.


I was thinking, we are getting close to the end of 2014, a year I described as my “Year of Ideas.” It was fully my intention to post on this every other Wednesday, but I never actually did it. Nevertheless, I learned a lot about the idea-generating process this year, and how I could be more “creative” and “generate more ideas.”

  • Nothing is more crucial to the process than having deadlines. I decided that, starting July 1, I was going to do a post every day (maybe more, either on purpose or by accident). I have managed to do that despite having days when I have no idea what to write about.
  • Quantity beats quality every time. Nothing kills the creative process like trying to come up with “good” ideas. I found I was coming up with an idea and immediately trying to decide whether or not it was a good one. As a friend of mine used to say, “Can’t be doin’ that!”
  • There’s no such thing as a “bad idea.” Some ideas can be used as is, others can be stepping stones to useful ideas, and sometimes you can combine several ideas to create one or more useful ideas. You might have had an idea three years ago that wasn’t useful then but is now.
  • Write ’em down. When you get an idea, write it down. When you hear about an idea, write it down. Evernote, OneNote, SimpleNote, Google Keep, even a notebook and a pen, use whatever tools you have to record your ideas. Don’t rely on your memory.
  • It’s okay to use ideas that aren’t yours. Jazz musicians have collections of short musical passages that they heard someone else play in a solo that they want to use in their own solos. There’s a better than average chance that the person they took the idea from took it from someone else. Every story you write contains elements of stories you’ve read. It’s what we do.

I started the year believing getting ideas was some kind of mystical, magical art, and come out of it knowing that there’s no magic involved, just keeping your eyes and ears open and not prejudging anything before having a chance to try it out.

Like I said before, duh.

Year of Ideas: You ain’t got time to think (#blogboost)


I promised one of these Year of Ideas posts every other week. I’ve been holding to more of a “every other month” schedule. Oh well.

Posting to a blog every day, whether doing it for a month as I’m doing for the Ultimate Blog Challenge or for the entire round of ROW80 (and beyond) might be the single biggest boost to my creativity and idea generation that I’ve come across. It doesn’t allow for me to mull over an idea for more than a few minutes, it forces me to think ahead to next week (or next month or next year), and I’m not rejecting ideas as quickly as I had been doing.

Does that mean that I’m just going to be coming up with any old crap that I can think of and posting it here? I certainly hope not. Katie (a/k/a “The Wellness Mama”) had an article yesterday at Copyblogger that has given me insight into how someone who does this for a living comes up with content every day. This is the process she uses:

  1. Create a writing environment.
  2. Schedule writing time.
  3. Have a framework.
  4. Outline for two minutes.
  5. Write 200 words.
  6. Refine.
  7. Optimize.

I do some of these (I have themes for Tuesday and Thursday) and have had some success with the blog (hey, you’re reading, right?); I just wonder how much more success I could enjoy if I followed all of these, at least for a while, until I refine this process for the unique way I work.

Stay tuned…

Year of Ideas: Sage advice about the power of lists


I haven’t posted one of these in a couple of weeks. Heck, practically a month by now. Such is life.

I’m sure that I’ve talked about James Altucher on this blog before. He’s really the reason I started this whole Year of Ideas thing. He has his own blog and a blog on the New York Observer website, and contributes articles to other sites. Last year he wrote an article for the site 99U that is the most-read article ever on the site.

If you watched the video above, you remember that about halfway through he talked about carrying a waiter’s pad with him wherever he goes, and writing down lists of ideas. It sounds easy, doesn’t it?


I’ve tried this, albeit without the waiter’s pad, since I’m just now getting accustomed to writing left-handed (I use checklists in Springpad), and it’s a lot harder than it looks. For one thing, coming up with four or five ideas is relatively easy; coming up with ten or more is a little more challenging. For anotherr, I really suck at making lists. Oh, I can make grocery lists, but lists of ideas (or anything else, for that matter) present me with a challenge.

Thankfully, the most recent post on James’ blog is The Ultimate Guide for Becoming an Idea Machine. He has a solution: if I’m having so much trouble with making lists of ten ideas, make lists of twenty ideas.

I know: huh? Here’s what he says:

You are putting too much pressure on yourself. Perfectionism is the ENEMY of the idea muscle. Perfectionism is your brain trying to protect you from harm. From coming up with an idea that is embarassing and stupid and could cause you to suffer pain.

And that’s just it. I think I mentioned it once before: I’m censoring the ideas before writing them down, because as I write I start thinking to myself “Nah, that’s really stupid. I can’t put that down.”

So, a couple of action items:

  1. Get in the habit of forming ideas and writing them down without censoring them.
  2. Make lists.

You might remember that it was once my intention to have a feature here called The Thursday Ten, a list of ten things related somehow. One week it was ten facts about pi, another week it was ten songs about rain. I did that for a few weeks and stopped. I found it “too hard” to come up with a list of ten related items every week.

Well, boo-hoo. I’m a blogger, I should be able to come up with a list without trying too hard. Some bloggers are great at it. Me, not so much, but that’s too bad. So, I’m bringing back The Thursday Ten, starting tomorrow.

Wish me luck.

Year of Ideas: The Idea Drawer

I remember reading somewhere that, when he was a standup comedian just starting out, Woody Allen developed a habit that continues to this day. He’d be out walking, or sitting at the bar between shows, or sitting around the house, and he’d think of something, or see something on the street, or overhear something on the subway, and he would think it had some comedic value, so he’d write it down and stick it in his pocket. When he got home, he’d toss the pieces of paper that he accumulated in a drawer. Matchbook covers, margins of newspapers, Bev-Naps, scraps of paper torn from legal pads, whatever he could find. When it came time for him to do a show, he’d take the pieces of paper out of the drawer, spread them out on the floor or bed, look for ideas that he thought were ready, and build them into his act. He talks about it here, in a segment from PBS’s *American Masters.”

When he became successful enough to hire an assistant, the first job he gave her was to type all of the ideas he had accumulated. When she finished, I think she had over 100 pages, just all of these ideas he had written on scraps of paper.

He didn’t sit down and brainstorm the ideas, he just made sure to write them down when he had them. Sometimes the idea was something like “Sing,” other times it was an idea like the one he shared in the video, a man inheriting every trick from a retired magician.

I don’t like any of Woody Allen’s movies and really don’t think much of him, either, but I was thinking that it might not be a bad idea to have an idea drawer of my own. Then I realized, I already have one. Lots of them, in fact.

  • Old notebooks from the days when I’d spend hours scribbling in them.
  • Steno pads and legal pads that I used to take notes for work at the jobs I used to have.
  • Springpad. I’ve bookmarked hundreds of links there, everything from funny stuff to articles about the brain, from politics to technical subjects, from checklists to notes and reminders. (And before anyone says anything, I’m fully aware of Evernote, SimpleNote, Google Note, OneNote, blah blah blah. I just prefer Springpad.)
  • My Documents directory. There’s stuff in there that I haven’t looked at in years that I moved over from the PC that I owned until 2007, including stories that I started and didn’t finish, and all of the stuff that I added since, some of which might have been added by applications that just sort of use it as a junk drawer. And while we’re at it, the Downloads directory and the pictures directory. Lots of good junk in there.
  • I’m forever finding file folders in the cabinet that have stuff in them that might have been important once, but I can’t remember what for.
  • Speaking of junk drawers… Every drawer in my house has junk and papers in it that are no longer relevant.

So I’ve been making a point of looking in those places for story ideas. It’s working out pretty well, really.

Have you ever found a notebook or a file folder that you had forgotten about and gotten lots of ideas from it, or found something in a drawer that stirred a memory for you?

My Year of Ideas: Ask Someone Else


A week late, but I was busy last Wednesday. So everything shifts a week.

Earlier this year, I had taken a number of classes in HTML and Javascript, with the intention of offering my services as a web designer. I got through the classes just fine, but resisted building the website I had kept threatening to create.

It finally became clear to me that I was barking up the wrong tree. I didn’t want to be a web designer, or a web programmer, or spend time configuring and maintaining servers. I can do some of that, and am pretty good at it, but it’s not where my strengths lie, and not what I see myself doing for any long period of time.

My brother called me for my birthday. Since losing our contract, he’s had some work on a smaller contract, but he and his wife bought a pack-and-ship store as a way to make some money. The store uses software that handles things like printing shipping labels, tracking packages, handles credit card transactions, and does other things that make his life easier. He said that the training for it was led by someone working offsite, and when she needed to demonstrate something, she would “take over” their machine and demonstrate it there. Likewise, when they needed support, the support representative was able to take over, see the whole machine, and troubleshoot the problems from wherever he was. He said, “John, when I saw all of that, I thought of you.”

I thought about it, and realized he was right. I have experience training from my office at home. One guy was in Tokyo, and there was a group in Mumbai. We used Skype, GoToMeeting, and other meeting technology. I think for the session with the guys in India, I had just gotten up and was still in my pajamas (okay, my underwear). I’ve also done training where part of the group was in the room with me and the other part of the group was watching me on TV. And, where I have limited experience in web design and development, I have lots of experience as a trainer and application support specialist. As in over 30 years’ worth.

The point is simple: Sometimes other people can see things in you that you can’t see in yourself. Sometimes that opens up new opportunities that you hadn’t seen before. It might be a good idea sometimes to ask people around you for their opinion sometimes.

By the way: I come from a huge family. Bigger than the Kennedys. Families have stories, some funny, some tragic, some inspirational. For years, Mary has been after me to write them down. I haven’t. I think I should. Keep an eye on my A to Z Challenge posts; you’ll see a few of them there.