I’m pretty young, and already I have more projects ideas than I will be able to write in this lifetime. This is true even if I have the fortune of living well into my 90s (which I suspect I won’t, as my family’s history is riddled with darkly comedic early deaths- too much pull toward adventure, and not enough common sense in the Sutton genes).
I do periodically root out the “bad” ideas- the ones that wouldn’t work because of the mediums I write in, or the zeitgeist, or because they would be better expressed non-verbally, or by someone who isn’t me, or the ones that go beyond my current skillset, or the ones that wouldn’t help along any of my personal or career goals. I hesitate to call them bad though, as any idea can be good under the right circumstances. But I’m all about efficiency. Do I have time or inclination to cultivate new circumstances? Not right now. Let’s work with the circumstances I’ve already got.
So even after whittling down the list, it’s still too big. How do I pick and choose what gets written and which ideas go into the big ether of ideas to hopefully get recycled and occur to someone else?
It’s not an exact science, but I do try to find that special overlap in the Venn Diagram between what is needed and what my heart desires, and then what furthers my personal goals, and what furthers my career goals.
I’m a big believer in all four of these categories- they all have their place and accomplish important things. I write things for all four a regular basis.
What is needed: These are writings that I do for others, because I have some viewpoint or expertise that they require. Sometimes other people could also do it, but some things others couldn’t, because they rely on the special nexus of my experience and my expertise. A lot of what I write for other people involves my background and what I’ve done and what I’m good at.
What my heart desires: These writings are writings I do for myself. Often others will never read them, though occasionally I’ll share or publish. And when I die, go nuts and godspeed to anyone who tries to make sense of it. I don’t have any secrets, not really. These writings entertain me, or they enrich me, or they help me figure things out. I learn by hearing and doing, but some things I only discover by writing or saying them. And some things I can’t say to others, so I say them to the paper.
What furthers my personal goals: I’ve identified the kind of person I am, and the directions in which I want to grow. Certain types of writing help me get there faster. They are important to do.
What furthers my career goals: Similarly, I’ve identified professionally what kind of person I am, and the directions in which I want to grow. Other types of writings will get me there faster. These writing are sometimes connected to my job, but not always.
So I take all of my ideas and I sort my projects into these four categories. Some projects fit into more than one.
And very occasionally, some projects fit into all four.
And those are the magical projects. The ideas I cannot say no to. The ideas that will keep me writing, long after motivation and discipline have dried out.
Those projects tend to fuel me and not become procrastinated on, because when my impetus to help others dries up, the prospect of writing for myself renews me, and when I’ve done too much self-indulgence, the prospect of helping or at least entertaining others, motivates me. And that’s also where I tend to do my best work.
Give it a try- discard your “bad” writing ideas, sort your remaining ideas into these four categories, and then find the ones that fit into multiples. Write those first. Then tell me what you think.