Never Start With A Blank Page

Creative block is over, if you want it. If you’re stuck without ideas in a brainstorm or a project, you just need to use this simple system: consume things, take notes, and bring those notes with you. Here’s how to do that effectively.

Writer, performer, and Christmas elf David Sedaris says his work is more learned skill than special talent: “Everybody’s got an eye for something. The only difference is that I carry around a notebook in my front pocket.” As writing teacher David Perell explains, Sedaris takes notes on everything interesting in his life, every stray thought he’d like to explore. Every so often he sits down, reads his notes, and copies the good ones to his computer.

Sedaris doesn’t need a brainstorming session where he sits around, trying to think of things. By the time he writes anything, he’s got all these ideas, and it’s more a matter of choosing what not to write about. He can start riffing on something he already wrote down.

Reading about this, I realised that some of my worst work started with a blank page, and my best work started with a big list of ideas I’d collected here and there. By taking ideas from everywhere, I discovered what interested me, and what I wanted to be a “temporary expert” in. When I looked at all those ideas, I started to see the connections I could make, the structure I could lay things out in—and I came up with a lot more to say.

You can’t prepare forever, and eventually research becomes procrastination. Don’t try to collect everything you’ll need for the whole project. Just collect what you need to start.

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