Writers get asked this often and more often than not, the answer can be distilled to this: I don’t really know. They just come to me.
Ideas are like luck. You can believe they just happen and that you’re just fortunate to be there when they materialze. But that’s a pretty fanciful notion, isn’t it?
Here’s what I know as someone who has been in the idea business for more than 10 years on my own, and more than 20 in the writing trade: luck and ideas come from practice.
You have to make a habit of being there—of showing up and doing the thing that needs to get done to get the things you really want. There is no shortcut.
I like what Neil Gaiman says about this: “You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.”
Part of the habit of ideas is to feed your appetite for more of them. I’ve talked before about 21 places for creative inspiration.
I want to share with you 10 more. The list is varied, but what they all have in common is an unyielding devotion to showing up regularly with great writing and solid ideas.
Who’s on your favourite list for creative inspiration? Let me know.
His positions on a lot of things might raise your eyebrows. He and I disagree, for instance, on the importance of voting (I see it as a civic duty in Canada, but I can see why he feels the way he does, living where he lives). But there’s a strange genius to what James does. I admire that, not to mention his deep sincerity. He also happens to be a prolific storyteller who understands the intimate bond between reader and writer. More than just teaching the value of not holding back at all in your writing, he also writes killer headlines. How can you help but click on a story called How I Screwed Yasser Arafat out of $2mm? I never miss a thing this guy writes.
I value a handful of field-tested research more than a truckload of opinions, and that’s why I read social media scientist Dan Zarella’s blog regularly (as well as his latest book). The takeway is more than just for social media. There’s insight here you can apply to all aspects of marketing and selling. As a direct result of Dan’s work—and his generosity in sharing his findings online—there’s a lot more certainty to writing for the web than ever before. Be sceptical of the opinionated. Act on verifiable data.
Poetry is what reminds me that there are no easy answers to creative problems. As I say so often: simple is hard. I turn to many poets often for advice through their words. One in particular is rob mclennan, whom I’ve know since the days of Bard poetry readings in the basement of a downtown bar here in Ottawa. His blog isn’t just a platform for his own elegant prose, but for others, too.
As much as I’m a stickler for evidence-based research, one place where that can’t help much is in learning the mastery of living the good life in the fine sense that Aristotle once spoke of. The path to happiness is not through data, but through wisdom earned through practice. It’s that easy. And that hard. This is why I keep coming back to ZenHabits for more.
Wait, I know what you’re going to say. “Hey you’re plugging her because she’s a client!” Well, that’s partly true (I’ve been writing for Colleen for many, many years). But there’s an even more important reason. Colleen is one of the industry’s best speakers and coaches, teaching business owners and sales people to increase sales the smart way. I learn something new on every job I work on for her. If you want to be a better speaker, a better business owner and even just be smarter about working with people, Colleen has the world by the tail. So I’m happy to share her wisdom with you, dear reader.
Jane Friedman of the University of Cincinatti shares my passion for the future of publishing and has some very thoughtful things to say about that. She does a great job of helping to teach writers to think more like entrepreneurs. There are also valuable takeaways for everyone—not just writers–in search of advice and encouragement on keeping their creativity muscles well-exercised.
This is a recent find for me. Jeff’s a writer for writers. His blog is pitched at those who care about “writing, creativity, and changing the world.” And he does a great job of delivering on that. His stuff glows with an infectious positive energy and that’s why I subscribe to his updates. Bonus points for being a fellow guitar enthusiast.
She practices what she preaches about how businesses can do a better job of using social media in their marketing activities. Her post on why business owners need a “stop-doing” list helped give me a push in the right direction in 2011 and I’ve been reading her ever since. Lisa gets bonus marks for being a fellow resident of Ottawa–where a one-time non-existent entrepreneurial culture is growing today, thanks to the people who put in the time to make it happen.
Yes, the man’s a giant in film review. But at his core, Roger’s a writer who just happens to talk about film. His ideas often touch on things that transcend cinema. He built a rather fine career on his considerable writing talents, and yet in the last several years, his skills have grown even more. It’s partly in defiance of illness and loss, but there’s something else that drives this guy’s incredible passion for words. He’s not afraid to colour outside the lines. He reminds that there is endless satisfaction in digging deeper into your thinking and to not just settle for what comes quickly.
I was first drawn to Artie because of his speaking style, which I admire greatly (and that includes his trademark bowtie). He’s a powerful advocate for anyone who is in the ideas business. What I’ve found has really been keeping me coming back, however, is his emphasis on ethics. He’s also a fan of Thich Nhat Hanh. So again, bonus points.