Apparently, my advice to work on a side project when your main project gets stuck might not be the best advice, according to Scott Belsky, author of Making Ideas Happen. As you can see in his speech here, instead of writer’s block, I may just be experiencing the “idea plateau.”
The “idea plateau” is the concept that people love a bright, shiny new idea. It gets us excited, and it keeps us working late into the night. But when the idea isn’t so new anymore, that excitement fades. To recapture the high, we run to another new idea. Belsky’s speech talks about surviving those periods of little excitement. Although his talk is geared toward project managers and entrepreneurs, I think it applies to writers as well.
Belsky’s first tip to to value restraints. Find the limits of your project and be creative within them. This will give you direction. For example, a writer will often have an easier time if he thinks in terms of “write a story about X,” instead of thinking, “just write about anything.” Or a writer might be able to maintain discipline longer if a deadline is looming, instead of losing interest in an open-ended project.
Belsky’s second tip is to establish increments of time, then define milestones to achieve by those increments and small tasks that lead up to a milestone. The real trick is to make these things “tangible and beautiful,” so that you can’t ignore them. Instead, you’ll keep referring to them and keep yourself on track. For a writer, make your plot points exciting, shocking, wonderful, and horrifying. You’ll stay excited about little details if you know they are headed somewhere big.
Another of Belsky’s tips is to encourage skepticism. Activate that part of you or your team that shoots down new ideas. For a writer, this can be tricky. Many of us have to deal with an internal editor telling us not to do things. Instead, I think Belsky means ignore those urges to write interesting side projects (like I advised, ha). Stay focused. Make a note about the idea, but stick to your main task.
Lastly, Belsky talks about encouraging competition and accountability. You are much more likely to keep working on your idea if you know others are at your heels or if others will see you dropping ideas. For a writer, this can mean joining a writing group with regular deadlines or competitions. Or it can be as simple as announcing your new project and then posting your daily word count.
What do you think of Belsky’s tips? Will they be useful at your job? In your writing? What advice would you have for someone in search of a writer’s discipline?