Generating Ideas

When I worked at UTSA, I wrote weekly for the Student Affairs Newsletter. It was much like my essay in each of these newsletters though it was often specifically focused on items relevant to that campus or that group of staff. According to one of the directors in our division, a staff member asked him how I came up with things to write about every week. As I recall, that director’s response was something to the effect that it was a discipline like any other and I worked at it. A pretty good answer really.

As is often the case, the narrower focus didn’t make it more difficult to come up with topics, in some ways it was easier. One of the most difficult writing assignments in grad school was challenging because it was so open-ended. (In case you’re curious, the class was Leadership, Literature, and the Individual. We read a novel every week and watched a couple of movies during the year. Our final assignment was choose at least eight characters from at least six of the works we studied that semester and use them to reflect on our leadership learning – or words to that effect. Oh, yes and points for creativity. The range of possibilities was nearly endless and the creativity of my classmates was impressive. I wrote a murder mystery entitled, “Who Killed Leadership?” and gathered my suspects in the library reading room to sort things out a la Agatha Christie. It turned out to be fun. Once I got started.)

Some weeks I know exactly what I want to write about and others, well it can be challenging. But my colleague was right, it is a discipline, and the practice of writing regularly makes it easier to write regularly.

The real title of this essay should probably be “In praise of a regular writing practice”, but the title I chose is accurate too. One of the ways to capture our ideas, to free our thinking, and to sort out all that comes at us, is a regular writing practice. I’ve written before about the power of Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages for me so I’ll spare you that today. I do know that like anything else, the more we do it the better we get. There’s a reason ‘practice, practice, practice’ is the answer to so many ‘How do I?’ questions. Margaret Wheatley shared an idea in a workshop I attended many years ago that has stayed with me and that I use often in workshops. “Writing it down captures the thought.”

And it’s true. Writing it down, whatever it is, helps us articulate our thinking. Reading what we just wrote, or reflecting on it through more writing, gives us a chance to consider whether it’s a good idea or not. As Flannery O’Conner put it, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

To get started, I find it helpful to give myself an assignment. Write for 30 minutes every morning this month. Or perhaps, write x number of words on a topic or question you faced during the day. Look online for writing prompts. (There are a lot, so maybe try writing prompts for a specific age group – other than your own for the fun of it. See below for some options.) Don’t be intimidated by the writing prompts for writers. You’re writing to learn what you think, to give yourself space to think, to enjoy, to explore. No one will ever see it but you so have fun with it.

Writing things down has helped me over the course of my career in many ways. It’s a practice worth developing for the ideas it generates, but also for it’s own sake. Go ahead. Give it a try.

Take care,


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