How to make creating things, less hard.
There is a moment in each of our lives, when we will get punched in the face. Not by anyone in particular (although this does happen) but it’s generally by an unseen hand of life.
Either way, it is seldom forgotten.
This is my version of that.
I was fortunate enough to make it into university or college.
6 months out from finishing the degree, I was in an emergency ward with blood gashing down my face. Wondering, if I could see out of my right eye.
I called my parents, tears streaming down my face telling them I had an accident in the workshop.
‘Maybe, there’s a lesson in this.’ That’s the first thing they said to me.
It’s funny, what we remember.
Up to that point, I thought I was learning by doing the coursework.
And I learning the hard way.
I had ended up running out of money and doing shift work in Canada packing frozen food into delivery trucks.
And I learnt the hard way.
I had gone backing packing in South America and walked down the wrong street.
And I learnt the hard way.
Putting the phone down, I realised I was at a crossroads.
That learning was already a costly business and I didn’t need to increase the price.
I had to find a different way in the world.
*An important distinction about learning.
The learning I write about here is the boring kind.
This learning stems from a lack of learning. Repeating the same boring patterns. Not being aware of our own pitfalls.
The common element here was consciousness.
I was done with this type of learning .
Calm seas never made a good sailor.
Since, each of these moments for me had been a gale force wind. I sat down and contemplated a better way. Turns out my approach was part of the problem.
Each time, I started something new I told myself that it must be from a blank slate or a blank page.
That’s an intimidating moment.
So starting was always difficult, which would lead to stuttering and this would result in a scare.
Notice, any problems here?
It’s a constant uphill battle.
A better way.
I had to consider shifting some of the energy away from creating finished products (articles, designs, whatever) and onto the ongoing maintenance of some kind of system for storing and fleshing out ideas.
Sitting down to create wasn’t meant to be the beginning of the process. Where there was a decision to create, followed by research, thinking of things to say, etcetera. That's the hard way.
For those of you who love the hard way, which I did. You can stop reading right now. I thank you for your interest and will get out of your way. So you can continue with your hard way.
Yet, for those of us who are looking for that better way.
The concept revolves around keeping an expanding storehouse of notes on what you're reading and conversations you're having, observations on life, shower thoughts, and so on.
That way, sitting down to create is the end stage of the process, a matter of bringing together various insights, facts and quotes you've been collecting and contemplating for months.
The purist way to do this is to create a "Zettelkasten" system otherwise known as a ‘slip box or note box’.
As outlined by Sönke Ahrens in his book How to Take Smart Notes focussed on the methodology developed by Niklas Luhmann, a 20th century Sociologist who published a prodigious amount of work: 70 books and more than 400 articles before his death (it is worth reading even if you don't decide to put in place the whole thing).
A surfacing system.
My version of this approach is still a work in progress. As it reaches a critical mass, it begins, in an almost magical fashion, to generate its "own" ideas, almost as if it were a human collaborator.
I call it a surfacing system. As, it allows ideas to become buoyant.
The Extended Universe currently looks like this:
Instapaper - In a sea of information you need to engineer a doorway for it to enter. Since, not all information is created equal. My go-to to save anything interesting app is Instapaper. Once I read it and 'like it', it then it gets sent to Evernote. I use this as a sieve to discard the good and keep the great.
IFTTT - This will connect what you like from a variety of apps and then get it sent over to yours by you triggering it. Think of it as your auto-pilot for sending interesting information to your system.
Evernote - This is where the notes end up.
Where to from here?
You need not worry about the tools or even a whole system.
Focus on simplicity.
Start by creating an ideas file or logbook, and have a way of jotting down thoughts that pop up wherever you go. This could be on a notepad, a phone or whatever.
That way when creating things you can focus on the hard bit, by making it easy on yourself and allowing the ideas to come.