The only way to have a lot of really great ideas is to have a lot MORE really bad ideas.
The good news is having bad ideas is really easy! I have bad ideas all the time. They flicker into my head all day long, usually disguised as a good idea. Then after I spend a little more time with them, their true identity as bad ideas reveals itself, and they gets discarded.
But every now and then a really great idea flickers into my head disguised as a really bad idea. You just have to get through the bad ones first.
The trick is to cultivate these bad ideas. To actively farm them, go out and get them. You won’t believe how freeing this will be.
When I’m working on something new (as I am now, a new play) the minute I get stuck I say, “Let me write the really bad version of this scene.” Now the pressure is off. No need to get it right. In fact – let me try to get it really bad! Not only am I better able to write, it’s actually more fun.
Remember this: Perfectionism is a form of resistance.
In Tools of the Titans by Tim Ferriss, hedge fund manager and author James Altucher is reported to have a daily habit of coming up with 10 ideas for any random topic. He’s exercising his “idea muscle.” But what if can’t even come up with 10 ideas?
“Here’s the magic trick: if you can’t come up with 10 ideas, come up with 20 ideas…You are putting too much pressure on yourself. Perfectionism is the ENEMY of the idea muscle…it’s your brain trying to protect you from harm, from coming up with an idea that is embarrassing and stupid and could cause you to suffer pain. The way you shut [this] off is by forcing [the brain] to come up with bad ideas.”
Ellen Sandler, in her book The TV Writer’s Workbook, also talks about writing a list of 10 ideas as a tool to get past the obvious. She instructs writers to write down the ideas (not just make the list in their heads) and do it quickly. Typically, she explains, you’ll be able to get about 5 or 6 ideas and then you’ll start to get stuck. I’ve done this myself. What begins to happen is, in order to push through, you start writing down the “really bad ideas.” Totally unlikely, even illogical ideas. “It could never be this, but….” And after a couple of those, you hit on something really creative, really bold, but truly perfect. A really great idea. “A bad idea can lead to a good one. You won’t know what’s good or bad till you get there.”
So what list of really bad ideas do you need to come up with today? The only truly really bad idea is to wait any longer.