Monday, August 16, 2010

Finding your top idea

By Reg Lynch; The Sydney Morning Herald
I haven't had poetry popping into my head of late. I think it's because I've been focusing on writing prose, in the form of a MG novel. My head can only deal with one writing format at a time.

I had noticed that poems almost always popped into my head while I was in the shower or just after getting out of the shower. For a while I thought the poetry muse liked the bathroom, in general (maybe because it's the one place where I get a few minutes to myself?). Then I thought it might be the hair dryer (lots of ideas came then, too).

But the poetry muse has been very quiet of late, and I've had other things popping in my head, like the idea for my entry into the weather blogfest. That scene quite literally appeared in my mind while I was in the shower. One could argue that water raining down on me triggered it, but I don't think that's it. You see, I had been thinking quite a lot about the weather.

(Lamenting it, really... I love a good thunderstorm, and the weather where I live is monotonous. Day in and day out of the same thing. It's either weeks of sun without a cloud in the sky, weeks of gray clouds without a hint of sun, or weeks of rain. Where I grew up, we got a little bit of everything every single day. The monotony makes me crazy.)

Paul Graham (software developer, programmer, investor, and all-around highly successful creative person) argues that whatever you think about in the shower is the top idea in your mind. It's the thing your brain is playing with, turning over, working at from various angles. It's the problem you will solve. The light bulb flash that will come to you out of the blue. The solution may not come then, but whatever you are contemplating in the shower is what consumes the neuronal pathways in your brain.

Rather exciting idea, really. Like being handed the keys to the kingdom. But it comes with warning: "be careful what you let become critical to you. Try to get yourself into situations where the most urgent problems are ones you want to think about." I think we could broaden this to say, try to get yourself into situations where your creative projects (or serious problems that require solving) are the things you think about.

Obsessing over a negative critique you received? You're not alone, it happens to the best of us (see Graham's Top Idea article for more about how it affected Isaac Newton). But perhaps the most selfish thing you can do for yourself is to let it go.

Nothing can be done to change it. All you do is damage yourself by carefully plotting out the various ways you could inflict pain (real or psychological) on the offender. Satisfying in the short-term. Detrimental over the long-term.

Wouldn't it be more satisfying to let it go, free your brain to come up with something that fixes the flaws, and carry out the new idea? To succeed by overcoming the problems so-and-so highlighted for you? I think so.

What was your top idea today? And how do you keep your mind focused on the ideas you want to think about?


  1. I don't know about my top ideas for today, or any day for that matter, but I WAS able to focus a bit this week. I wrote a new story this past weekend while on a campout. I typed up another one that was ready to be typed. (I usually write long hand in a notebook during the early creative stages - once I get to a certain point, then I'll start typing.) And I'm typing up two more. Gosh, then I'll need to start writing something new!

    I never really THOUGHT about what I think about while in the shower. Maybe I should...

    "But perhaps the most selfish thing you can do for yourself is to let it go." Is there a typo here? Should it say "is to NOT let it go?"

  2. christie: Sounds like your writing is going really well!

    That was not a typo... it's selfish to let go of things that take up your mental energy when you could use that energy for something you'd rather be working on (i.e., don't obsess about the person who cheated you out of something when you can put that energy into making something better).

    I never paid attention to what I thought about in the shower before I read that article. But now I do. And it's amazing how well it maps onto what I accomplish on a given day.