Thursday, August 12, 2010

Getting carried away

Does this ever happen to you?

You get an exciting idea for a new song. And by the end of the evening, the idea has somehow gotten bigger. It now encompasses an entire album and a thematically linked concert tour. And a series of T-shirts. And an interactive web site.

This kind of thing can happen with hot new ideas. They grow rapidly as they collect new possibilities. We call this process "getting carried away." It's almost as though the idea has abducted you and taken you away from your life. Now you've forgetten every plan you had yesterday, and your entire future is filled up with bigger and bigger versions of this exciting idea.
It's okay to get excited about your new ideas. There's nothing wrong with thinking through all the different formats that the idea could take, and writing down every potential followup that you can think of. It's always good to gather ideas and become aware of new possibilities. If this song turns out to be a hit, you'll have plenty of ideas to draw on for how to follow it up.

But you have to take this process lightly. Remember that a rapid rise is usually followed by a rapid fall, and the new idea might not look as bright and shiny tomorrow. A rule of thumb is, don't go registering any domain names until the next day. Don't start buying supplies and signing up for training classes while the idea is in its initial flush of excitement.

Capture your ideas, but try to get yourself out of the realm of planning and into the realm of action as quickly as you can. In other words, if you find yourself writing character sketches for the fourth book in the series, put those notes aside and actually start writing chapter 1 of the first book.

Under the influence of inspiration, plans have a way of getting bigger and bigger. But always remember, as we discussed yesterday, that inspiration also has a way of disappearing before its project is finished. So, after you "think big," try hard to "plan small." Keep your plans, projects, and commitments as small as you can manage.

Start with questions like these: What's the smaller and simpler way to follow through on this idea? What is the low-budget version of this project? How can I get this done with less time and effort? If I had limit this initiative to what I can actually get done today, is there anything of value that I could create by the end of the day?

For example, maybe the book you just dreamed up could be boiled down to a single blog post. Maybe instead of hiring an orchestra for your new piece of music, you can use synthesizers. Maybe instead of traveling the country to speak about your new insight, you can post an online video.

It's exciting to have big goals and to attach yourself to big ambitions. It's not so exciting when you're bogged down in an enormous project that seems impossible to finish.

When inspiration is leading a project, see if you can plan your work in layers, starting small but with room to grow. I'll have more on this strategy tomorrow.

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