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There’s nothing worse than the dreaded blank page.
Clean and pristine it may be, but an empty document isn’t exactly what you’re aiming for. So how do you go from having no idea, no thoughts, no words, to a fully fleshed out article?
To do so requires some effort. But before we go into that, let’s first talk about the legendary sourdough bread in San Francisco.
Sourdough: A Gold Miner Necessity
In 1848, when James W. Marshall found gold in a sleepy area northeast of San Francisco, news of his good fortune spread quickly. People from all over the United States and abroad traveled to the San Francisco area hoping to strike it rich. This sparked the California Gold Rush.
The rush may have come and gone since then, but if there’s one treasure they left behind, it’s sourdough bread starter.
Given the conditions gold prospectors faced, starter bread, which is a fermented dough using naturally occurring yeast and bacteria, was more reliable than conventional yeast and baking soda. Prospectors used starter dough to make bread during tough times for sustenance. The miners soon discovered that the resulting bread had a delicious flavor unique to San Francisco.
As the Californian miners made their way north to Alaska and western Canada during the Klondike Gold Rush, they carried a pouch of sourdough starters around their neck or belt. At night, they would curl up with their starters to keep it from freezing. Longtime prospects earned the nickname “sourdoughs.”
Back in San Francisco, Boudin Bakery, the city’s oldest running business, was founded in 1849 by Isidore Boudin. He obtained starter dough from a gold miner, which the bakery has been using ever since. In fact, his wife rescued the starter dough during the 1906 earthquake.
Sourdough starters require time and care. A funny, shapeless lump made of flour and water, they take on a flavor dependent on the yeast and bacteria on the grain. But with some dedication and effort, they can form the basis of a fresh, beautiful loaf of bread.
Ideas work much the same way.
Nurture Your Ideas
Ideas don’t appear out of thin air. But they don’t show up when you’re staring at your computer screen, either. Instead, one idea springs from another.
To get to these ideas, look around you. Step outside your house. Talk to someone. Browse around at different places. If you see something interesting, write it down.
If you’re stuck indoors, you can still generate fresh ideas. Read books on different topics. Go on the internet and browse articles. If you read something thought-provoking, write it down.
You might hear an exciting story, learn an interesting fact, or explore a novel concept. Write it down as soon as you can. It doesn’t matter where: on your phone, a piece of paper, or a document (Evernote is a good place to jot digitally).
Why should you write an idea down right away? Because, if you wait until later, you might forget. Besides, you can always erase it later if the idea isn’t so great after all.
Keep a storage space where you can record all your ideas. It can be an email folder, a document, or a notebook. This space full of ideas becomes the starter dough for the work you’ll eventually do.
In order to keep a sourdough starter going, it needs to be fed flour and water on a regular basis. Similarly, your depository of ideas needs to be fed regularly to keep it going. Otherwise, you’ll run out.
Mix and Match Ideas to Come Up With Something Original
The good thing about jotting your ideas and keeping them in one place is that they can mix together. One ordinary idea can lead to a great idea. Multiple ideas can merge and form an original idea.
For instance, awhile back I read the book Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. It explained the 10,000-Hour Rule, which states that someone can become an expert in any field if they practice for 10,000 hours.
Later, I ran across the story of cellist Yo-Yo Ma and his sister Yeou-Cheng Ma, a talented violinist. The story got me thinking about the role talent and hard work play in success. The result was the article: Play to Your Strengths, Hide Your Weaknesses.
Many of my articles incorporate both a story and idea. You may be wondering, which comes first? The story or the idea? The chicken or the egg?
The answer is: either. Sometimes, I come across an interesting story that I bookmark for reference. Later, I think of an idea that matches the story I read about earlier.
Or, I hear about a concept from a book, article, or someone else. I research on people, places, or things that might be relevant. Along the way, I might stumble upon a story that fits the idea.
As you can see, it’s a fluid process. What’s most important is to be observant of the things around you, write them down, and refer back to your notes, time and time again. The more you do it, better you get.
When you go through the process regularly, your brain becomes good at generating ideas. Like any muscle, your brain’s idea-generating muscle gets stronger the more you use it. When you stop, you begin to lose it.
The More You Record, The More You Have to Work With
Your goal is to avoid the dreaded white page at all costs. Staring at empty space won’t help you create new ideas.
In fact, by the time you get to creating your piece, you should already have material on hand. Ideas, stories, facts – some of these should have been recorded down previously and ready to go.
In order to have something to work with, you need to make notes regularly. Record your thoughts, link to interesting articles, anything that you may need later. You may not use them right away, but sometime down the road, those notes may prove useful.
So get going on your starter. The earlier you begin, the better it’ll get.
Ruled Notebook/Journal by BooQool – A high-quality classic ruled notebook for taking notes and brainstorming.
Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon – Nothing is original, so use what’s out there already and mold them into your own to think and live creatively.