Do Not Rush Good Ideas

As a writer and researcher, most of my days are spent doing one of two things: reading, or writing. Although there are no requirements around reading in my job description, I find that the more I read, the higher quality ideas that I have. In addition, reading more allows me to present more diverse perspectives in my writing, and also helps me find the sources that I need to make informed arguments. However, one question that I have been struggling with a lot lately is how I should manage writing in the context of deadlines. Specifically, I have been thinking about how I should ensure that I have enough good ideas to ensure that I can write a high-quality article or report before a deadline. Most employers have quotas around how many ideas people have — investors, for example, are sometimes expected to have a few great ideas each year. But in writing, these quotas are more informal: you are judged based on how much content you produce, in many respects.

Good Ideas are Random

The problem that I have with deadlines is that good ideas are random, and they will come whenever they are ready. You cannot discover a great idea for writing: you will find one naturally over time. Sometimes a great idea comes when you are reading an article and you realize that there is an interesting perspective that you know a lot about and want to cover in more depth. Sometimes you will be writing an article and think of an idea that would make a great argument in your writing. Producing good ideas is not something you can do on-demand; you have to wait until a good idea comes to you. I find that imposing deadlines — especially in writing — is actually a major barrier to allowing writers to be their most creative self. When you set a deadline to come up with a good idea for a writer, then they will feel pressured to come up with an idea as quickly as possible. The writer will be fixated on the deadline they have, rather than the writing that they are supposed to do.

Indeed, deadlines play a critical role in writing — and in most other disciplines, for that matter. They help ensure that we are always on-track and that we do not get distracted by other tasks which are not pertinent to our work. And perhaps not coming up with a good idea on a deadline is a reflection on how you think of ideas — you don’t read enough, or you don’t take enough time to digest information. But most of the time, deadlines are an inhibitor to creativity and draw away our attention from what truly matters: our writing. If we are asked to write an article by Friday and today is Tuesday and we don’t have a good idea, with every day we will feel more pressured to come up with a good idea. In fact, if we rush the process too much, it is likely that we end up writing about something that we have previously discarded but now looks better because we have a deadline. The pressure gets to us and we feel a need to produce something immediately, rather than take the time we need to be truly creative.

Wait Until You Have a Good Idea

Many people ask what makes a great writer so good at their job. Of course, there are many elements to this question — their diligence in writing, creativity, personality, ability to manage deadlines, etc. But one of the most important reasons is that great writers often only write when they have a good idea. Some of the best authors in the world have delayed writing another book because they are not ready to do so — they do not have enough good ideas. These people will spend their extra time on side projects to keep them creative and ensure they maintain a strong working mindset, but they will not start another book until they are sure that they have an idea that is good enough. The best authors are not interested in putting out dozens of books; they are interested in publishing the best books that they can. The best articles, essays, and books are those written by people who have started writing when they have had their best idea. They are not focused on any particular idea — they let their mind run wild and wait until they are ready.

Generating Good Ideas

This leaves an important question: how do I generate good ideas? Indeed, good ideas cannot be rushed, but you can refine your process so that you are in a better position to generate good ideas. My best ideas have came at random times, usually after I have read something interesting that has made me think, and I have a few ideas about how to stimulate the creative process. The first would be to consume as much content as possible. If you are not writing at work, then you should be reading, or at least thinking about something meaningful. The more content you read, the more information your mind has to digest and synthesize, which can lead to great ideas. Indeed, the best ideas are often a combination of many good ideas that you have experienced before.

For example, the internet was the combination of various different communication ideas; the iPhone was the combination of iPod technology, the idea of having a screen you can touch, among other things. If you spend your time reading and consuming content, you will have more information to help you make these connections. In addition, I find that writing in itself can stimulate good ideas. By writing, you are moving the thoughts in your mind onto a tangible medium, which allows you to evaluate whether the idea is actually good, or just something that made sense in your head. Writing also forces you to think about how to present your ideas more eloquently, which helps reduce the impact of all of the noise in your mind. These rules apply to any creative discipline, not just writing — if you are an investor, read as much as possible and write down your ideas; the same applies to businesspeople, marketers, sales representatives, and more.

I think the best way to think of good ideas is to always keep your mind open for new ideas. The idea for my most recent article came after reading a few articles this week about the topic. In every situation you should be open to listening to what everyone else is saying, and ask them as many questions as possible. When you talk, you are only sharing the things which you already know; when you listen, you have the ability to learn from other people. Always be on the lookout for ideas, and take some time out of your day to reflect on what you have read and heard — often there can be a gem already in your mind, if you look for it. The best authors and writers are those who are always thinking about ideas and wait until the right one comes along to act. Generating good ideas is also easier when you have more control over your time, as you can spend more of your day thinking about ideas and digesting information. Don’t rush good ideas; let them come to you. If you spend all of your time focusing on deadlines, you will not be able to give your mind the freedom it needs to create good ideas.

Good ideas are random; don’t rush idea generation. Listen to others. Always be on the lookout for new ideas.

James Gallagher