You’re sitting in your evening traffic jam and the idea hits you! By time you get home and try explaining it, it’s gone. Mowing the lawn, same thing. Waking up from a dream, same thing. What had the power and impact as a fantastic, perhaps even life changing idea somehow loses it’s strength even after a few minutes. You try telling it to a friend, and it just fizzles. Where’d it go?
Write one true sentence.
This was the first of two great pieces of advice that the legendary writer, Hemingway, offered about getting past what some call writer’s block. At the time of this writing, I’m about to consult with a client who contacted me. He’s a self-described “idea man” which usually means that he hasn’t developed his idea past that initial optimism-inducing squirt of serotonin that gives you the euphoric high of inspiration.
For many, perhaps most, that inspiring high fades away and you return to where your focus is “supposed” to be – perhaps filing, or writing that work memo, or helping your kids with their homework. That idea came from your crafty little subconscious. You know, that part of you that won’t let go of the flights of fancy that the real world has tried to beat out of you all these years. Your subconscious delivers these little snippets of what you really WANT to think about via your daydreams and your night dreams.
See, your subconscious is like a little disguised helper who has to deliver its message to you when no one is looking, so it doesn’t do so when you’re actively engaged, but rather when you’re just going through the motions. When your mind has time to drift off the prescribed path, that’s when you meet up with your subconscious. He slips you a message, gets you to thinking, and then, just like in the movies, that’s when someone taps your shoulder to remind you to get back on task. Then, just like that, the message dissipates.
So, back to my client. I often encounter clients like him. He’s sure it’s a great idea – a billion-dollar idea. (They used to be million-dollar ideas but after the rise of Zuckerberg they’re either a billion-dollars or their worthless.) I brace myself and drive across town to meet him. As usual, I’ve asked him to email me some information ahead of time so I can be prepared when I meet him. No reply to this request.
As a web-designer you get a fair share of “concepts” coming your way. People think the web is magic fairy-dust that brings already great ideas to life so that people can start sending you parcels of cash. I remember a story we read in first grade called “Stone Soup.” In the story a man comes to a town wracked by famine. He sees that everyone is hungry and he tells them of a delicious soup that he can make out of nothing more than a stone and a little water. He asks if they have a pot and if they can start a fire under it. They do. The gist of the story is that this man asks for small, easily attainable items one by one, a dash of salt, some pepper, maybe a carrot or two, a spare chicken… a little of this and a little of that.
In my work with A Day On and as a web developer I often find myself in the same position as that culinary journeyman; not the sole possessor of the secret ingredient, but one who believes even if you don’t that you have all the ingredients already within your possession. Often times people have all the necessary ingredients they just might not realize it. They don’t realize where all the ingredients are stored within them. And the ingredients they need to gather from elsewhere… well, they’re out there they just need to systematically seek them out.
It all comes down to putting together a business plan. And that all begins with writing down your idea. Where do you start? At the beginning of course. Hemingway said, “Write one true sentence.” Novels (and most great ideas) are written one sentence at a time. Here are some tips that I offer my clients whether I am building their website with them or whether I am helping them develop their business plan:
Write one true sentence. Maybe your idea springs from a need that many people have that no one else is satisfying. Write that need. Then proceed maybe by asking questions: How is this solution better? How much would someone pay for this solution? Who could we market this solution to?
Drawing or sketch. Maybe you’re more of a visual person. Words might not come easy but if images do, why not draw out what connects with you about your idea. Maybe the germ of your idea has something to do with a better way to organize something or a better design for an ordinary product. Maybe it just has something to do with a better way to organize your living or work space.
A few years ago I realized that my desk and office furniture set up just wasn’t working for me. In typical A Day On fashion, I wanted to create a chair that would fit my body better. Why should people all have to fit in chairs of the same dimensions that place them in essentially uniform positions? I drew out what I wanted and built it. I sit for hours at a desk, now it’s MY desk and I’m more comfortable and more happy while I’m working. The whole concept of A Day On is built around these kinds of adjustments – some physical, some attitudinal. At the inception of the concept of A Day On I drew out a kind of wheel where “A Day On” was at the center and spider legs went out in different directions touching various “topics” such as “Home,” “Work,” “Faith,” “Commute,” “Family,” etc. These helped me understand all the areas that I could touch on in writing articles for this site and for other sites that I would network with. It helped me understand my own idea. Another great writer, I forget who, once said: “I write to understand what I think.” Writing or drawing gives ideas form.
Storyboard. And if you are thinking about a website or an app, it just might be that the best way to convey your great idea to the person who will ultimately build it is to hand him a screen-by-screen mockup of the process that the visitor or app user should progress through from landing page up until payment confirmation page. Movie directors often create visual “comic-strips” to help them visualize the way they will approach filming their movie.
Others. The point here, and the whole point of A Day On is to bring your yearning, your inclination, your concept out of the formless fog of your subconscious and transform it into something your conscious mind can start chewing on. You have to make it more real step by step, day by day. You might be more inclined to build a model like a diorama, or even a tape recording.
We all respond to different media. Some of us process things aurally (via hearing), some visually, some via our tactile senses and need to feel something. The important thing is not to discount these differences and try to fit your idea into a medium that doesn’t speak to you. “Write one true sentence,” simply means begin whatever process to you will make your idea real.
Earlier in the article I mentioned that Hemingway had another piece of advice for making sure what began in his head made it into print. He also claimed that you couldn’t talk about it until you had written it. “Talking about it,” he explained. “Released the idea and emptied it of its urgency and necessity. Once you share it with your friends it’s likely going to fail because they will talk you out of it. They’ll say, “I don’t get it.” It really wasn’t ready for them. It wasn’t ready to be shared. You mistook your desire to examine it with a desire to share it. If you talk to others about your idea before you develop it it will fall flat.