How to Come Up With a Stream of Writing Ideas
For those of you who read my work a lot, I bet you think to yourself:
“God damn, how does this dude keep writing as such an insane clip?”
Do you want to wield these powers yourself? Do you want to stop feeling so damn stuck about what you should write next? Maybe you’re already doing well, but you want to take things to the next level and become an idea-machine.
I can help you.
But first, you have to help yourself.
Too many writers are way too stuck in their heads. Above all else, regardless of how crappy your writing is, sitting down to write precedes all these tips.
People always ask me for advice about writing, yet they don’t write all that much.
The principles I’m going to teach you to help you come up with new ideas will only work if you manifest those ideas into words. I can’t physically force you to sit down in a chair and write, that’s on you, but I can give you some guidance.
These are the strategies, frameworks, and principles I use to write something new damn near every day.
The Foundational Idea Generating Technique I’ve Used Without Fail for 5 Years
Anytime I mention this strategy, I always pay homage to James Altucher, who invented it, or at least was the first person I saw talking about it.
The strategy is simple, write down 10 new ideas per day.
From the horse’s mouth:
IDEAS ARE THE CURRENCY OF LIFE. Not money. Money gets depleted until you go broke. But good ideas buy you good experiences, buy you better ideas, buy you better experiences, buy you more time, save your life. Financial wealth is a side effect of the “runner’s high” of your idea muscle.
While James talks about the idea-generating technique for a wide variety of subjects, I use it exclusively for coming up with ideas for articles.
People think I just have this magical ability to come up with new ideas. No. To this day, if I write down 10 ideas for an article, maybe two are good, usually just one. But that’s enough.
You’re underestimating what it takes to be creative. You’re waiting for your daemon, I summon mine daily. To get the handful of great ideas that have helped me build a career in the past few years, I’ve come up with 15,000+ bad ideas.
You’ll never get the sugar-coated answer from me. Becoming a full-time writer takes work, period. Ideas are your job, not something you wait for to fall in your lap.
The Misguided Attitude That Keeps Writers Stuck (And How to Avoid It)
I’ve mentioned the ’10 ideas technique’ countless times in my blog posts. Why? Because I’m not afraid to repeat myself. If you look at James’s writing, you’ll see him repeating himself a lot, too.
He’ll always tell a similar story. First, he loses all his money, gets depressed, ruins all his relationships, and ends up on the floor crying. Then, he starts working on ideas again, makes all the money back, and reinvents himself.
If you are familiar with his work, you know that’s basically every single one of his posts. But they’re all so damn good and you don’t mind him repeating himself at all.
Why? Tucker Max explained it well. He said that James is trying to write the same blog post over and over again trying to perfect it, but never quite getting there.
That’s what I try to do. If you read my articles, they’re all the same article, more or less. Maybe an anecdote is different here and there. The tips, points, and pieces to the essays vary, but the core is mostly the same.
Why would you write about an idea once, never to return to it?
That assumes you haven’t learned anything, grown, or become a better writer. When you evolve as a person and a writer, you can revisit the same ideas over and over again with a new perspective.
In fact, that’s exactly what you should do.
80/20 Your Successful Writing Ideas
You can’t predict virality, else it wouldn’t be virality.
I use the prolific approach when it comes to writing articles. There are writers who do get predictable and great results by spending tons of time on each article, but, honestly, I’m just not that patient.
This doesn’t mean I don’t spend time creating quality, I do. It just means I don’t equate quality with time. Some have created this imaginary rule that you have to spend forever on your art for it to be good.
Says who? Tolstoy? Ok, maybe if you want to be Tolstoy you have to torture yourself and endlessly revise your work.
I don’t want to be Tolstoy, I want to be Ayo. Ayo would rather put out a blog post a day and a book a year rather than trying to become Hemingway. Sue me.
It’s up to you. I’m not saying either approach is right. I just advise the approaches I personally use. For me, being prolific and not worrying too much about the results of each individual article creates the seeds for virality.
The 80/20 rule applies to prolific writing. After you get some experience and an audience, a handful of our articles will routinely blow up for seemingly no reason.
Sometimes the ones you think will be home runs will be total duds. And then a random post you write that you felt iffy about will explode.
Just put your faith in the prolific process and see what happens. Generate 10 ideas per day, run with one, wash, rinse, repeat.
Find Material Anywhere, Anytime, Always, Constantly
You want to start becoming an active observer of your surroundings instead of someone who passively experiences them.
Any moment of your life can be fodder for an article. If an idea pops up in your head while you’re doing your day to day thing, write it down and put a note about it in your phone.
Conversations you have with others can be useful to your writing. You don’t have to out people or even write about what they said, but there are takeaways about people’s beliefs and behavior patterns you can draw from conversations.
Become a people-watcher. Try to imagine what’s going on in the minds of total strangers. Look at their body language, facial expressions, the way they walk, listen to the tone of their voice.
Use your consumption habits for good. I love adding little pop-culture references in my writing. I’ve used song lyrics as ideas for blog posts. I pay attention to the writing of my favorite T.V. shows and movies.
Your own thoughts are great fodder as well. Think of the range of thoughts, emotions, and experiences you personally have in a single day. Even banalest life is an absurd and insane existence if you think about it.
So, think about it.
Material is everywhere. Open your eyes and perk up your years.
Stop Trying to be J.D. Salinger, Sylvia Plath, Plato, or Whatever
There are only two reasons behind creating original work.
Reason number one — you’re a genius, a savant, a revolutionary thinker. Unlikely.
Reason number two — your ideas suck.
Quit trying to reinvent the wheel. Yes, there is originality in the way you combine ideas, absolutely, but there are proven strategies and frameworks that work.
I teach traditional blogging techniques. Because I drilled down those ‘formulaic’ processes, I have the experience and skills to freestyle more.
Even other types of writing like narrative essays and fiction have techniques and strategies to them.
Don’t be afraid to build on the ideas of other writers — steal, remix, combine, reverse-engineer. Not plagiarize, but rather draw from so many sources people think you’re original.
Robert Greene is one of my favorite writers. He’s written some of the most original and creative books I’ve ever read. Still, all of them are rooted in things that have already happened. He’ll go through hundreds of books to cherry-pick stories, facts, and concepts from them.
From using proven writing frameworks to standing on the shoulders of other successful writers, get this idea out of your head that you’re the next best revolutionary thing.
You’re not. At least not yet. Not until you write more. And without, you know, actually coming up with ideas and writing, you’ll never get there.