Want Better Ideas? Cherish Your Routine.
This past week, I broke my streak. It was the first time since the start of 2018 that I wasn’t at least one article ahead on this blog. Up until now, that’d been a great little habit — without the pressure of having to publish right now, I’ve had the space to think more deeply about my topics, take more time writing each article, and frankly, produce better work.
So what happened? Why did I finally fall behind? Why am I writing this article just a few days before I need to send it to you? It’s not because I couldn’t find the time to write. It’s not because I didn’t want to work on the blog. It’s because I couldn’t come up with a good idea. I’ve been feeling a bit like Austin Kleon:
“Some people tell me they have all these great ideas, and they just can’t get it together enough to make them happen. I am envious of these people, because I do not feel full of great ideas. I have plenty of faith in my ability to do something with a great idea, should I have one, but what I do not have is any faith in my ability to actually generate that great idea. I spend almost all of my time trying to have an idea worth doing something about.”
Most of the ideas that turn into articles are borne from my weekly reading regimen — 15 or so online sources plus whatever book is on my nightstand. I’ll transcribe passages that stand out, and the best ones ultimately end up in my “blog idea” file. As I keep reading and learning, new thoughts are added while others glom on to existing ideas. Eventually, like a rain cloud, an idea will “burst” — all the assembled bits and bobs turn into a full-on article.
But lately, nothing’s been bursting. This line, from the novel Authority, accurately sums up my situation:
“He kept circling back to all the information that had flooded into him, that he had let keep flooding into him. There would be more of it tomorrow, and the day after that, and no doubt new information would keep entering him for a while before any conclusions came out.”
Every day, new information comes in, but nothing’s “heavy” enough to come back out. And so, I keep on reading.
As I got into writing this article, I realized why I’ve been struggling lately. It’s because last week, a family matter knocked me out of my daily routine. Much of the week, I was away from my computer. A backlog built up. Of course, I don’t regret taking time off — not hardly — but I bet that it was a major factor in why I didn’t have an article ready to go this week.
I take this pattern as proof that my reading regimen isn’t just for fun. It isn’t a poor use of time or a distraction. It’s a vital part of my creative process and production function. It might not always feellike work to binge-read, but it is working.
Now that I’m back at my desk and diving into everything I missed last week, new clouds are forming. It can’t be long before they burst.
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