breakthrough ideas

Published on March 24, 2020

Most of the things I write about on this blog are not going to be breakthrough ideas.

There are two ways I could write on this blog. I could optimize for quality, spending weeks or months deliberating over each paragraph in my work. Or, I could optimize for quantity, share my ideas as I go, and let them naturally evolve over time. I have opted for the second course of action.

For me, writing is an exercise that helps me boost my mental clarity. The goal is not for me to write something perfect, rather to give myself an opportunity to explore the ideas going around in my mind in more depth. I recognize that the mind is a busy place, and the best way to clear it up is to write about what I am thinking about. Once it’s on paper, I know I can move on to think about the next thing, or think about a specific idea from a new perspective.

Often I am not thinking about great ideas. On most days, I am thinking about the same ideas I’ve been considering for a while, or I am thinking about the basics of my life -- what to eat, what to do after work, and so on. It’s not as if every day I have a revolutionary idea that I want to explore, or as if I have a breakthrough that warrants my writing a long blog post.

I think many people who want to build a writing habit get caught up in the trap of “what if I have nothing to write about?” If you feel as if you don’t have anything to write, then it is easy for you to rationalize not writing at all. You can say to yourself “well, even if I did try to write, I wouldn’t get anywhere because I have no ideas.”

Another version of this is “I don’t have anything unique to write about.” This comment is especially common because many new writers feel like everything they need to write should be new and novel. It should be a breakthrough idea.

These mindsets both discourage new writers from taking up the challenge of writing on a frequent basis, and make it difficult for people who are already in a writing habit to keep going. If you’re struggling to come up with ideas, then it’s easy to say that writing is not providing you with a lot of value, especially if you write to help clarify your thoughts.

This is why I am trying to repeat to myself the following: what you write today will likely not be a breakthrough idea. Maybe I have an excellent insight one day, and that turns out to be the foundation of a long essay on a topic I am passionate about.

On most days, though, this will not be the case. I will be thinking about basic ideas, and those will be the things I want to write about. Does this mean I am a bad writer? Of course not. It just means that I am not full of novel ideas to the extent that I can write about one breakthrough every day. I have good ideas every now and again, but every day does not present a new breakthrough.

Acknowledging that most of the ideas I will cover on this blog are not novel may sound like I have given up on writing quality work, but the opposite is true. I am simply allowing myself to focus not on the quality of an individual idea, but on the cadence of writing every day. Every so often I will have a breakthrough idea, and I’ll only know I have had one if I keep writing.

What writers can you name who write something completely novel every day? Something that is fully original, that couldn’t have been synthesized by anyone else? I know a few of these people, but most of the people who do this type of writing are those who don’t publish often. They spend years on assuring quality.

That’s fine for them, because that is part of their underlying writing thesis. But my idea of writing is to clarify my daily thoughts and to explore new ideas as they come, and so I want to publish more frequently. Every writer is different, and that’s acceptable.

This is all to say that, if you read this blog, you shouldn’t expect a novel idea each day. Tomorrow I may write about why your health should come first. Or I may write about priorities. You may already have read dozens of pieces on those topics, and that is fine. I am writing not to please everyone, but to share my ideas as they come. I’d much rather do that than change my entire writing style because other people have a different idea of what constitutes good writing.

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