No idea? Unimportant idea? Obvious idea? Write anyway

Tim Ferriss says one of the best things about building his podcasting platform is that it allows him to meet and talk interesting people. (Joe Rogan says the same.) They’re top performers in their respective fields, but many guests write in some form. Ferriss often digs into their approaches to writing. Here’s some advice in Kevin Kelly’s chapter:

Write to Get Ideas, Not to Express Them “What I discovered, which is what many writers discover, is that I write in order to think. I’d say, ‘I think I have an idea,’ but when I begin to write it, I realize, ‘I have no idea,’ and I don’t actually know what I think until I try and write it. . . . That was the revelation.”

(Check out Kelly’s 1000 True Fans.)

I’ve seen this principle in other fields—in design you sketch to generate ideas. Design sprints have activities like crazy 8s1. There are always people who think they’ll have nothing to draw. No way they’ll have 8 things. Sure enough, the timer starts and ideas come out.

Sometimes it doesn’t seem as clear that writing anything is one of the best ways to generate ideas for writing.

Write even if you have something unimportant to say. On 10 Minute Writer’s Workshop, Tom Gauld is asked “What’s the worst advice?” He was quick to answer:

“There was a British playwright who said ‘Never write unless you have something important to say.’ Which I just thought maybe if you’re really a confident person full of opinions that’s a great piece of advice. But I think most writers are constantly worried that what they have to say isn’t worthwhile. And I think you just have to try saying it and hopefully something will come together.”

Sometimes you’ll find something important to say after writing a couple pages of unimportant things. Other times something unimportant to you is really important to other people. Derek Sivers wrote about this in Obvious to You, Amazing to Others:

But I continue to do my work. I tell my little tales. I share my point of view. Nothing spectacular. Just my ordinary thoughts.

One day someone emailed me and said, “I never would have thought of that. How did you even come up with that? It’s genius!”

(Check out my other post about that Sivers link.)

This blog wouldn’t exist2 if I only wrote when I have something important to say. One day I hope people find something amazing in it.

  1. Fold a piece of paper a couple times and then once the other way and you’ll have eight boxes. Set an interval timer for one minute and draw a different idea in each box. ↩︎
  2. Bringing up the eternal question: does this blog exist if it has no readers? ↩︎