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How to have the best ideas in the world

I was re-writing my novel for the hundredth time the night Leela was born. She’d wake up, I’d help take care of her, she’d go back to sleep, I would continue writing.

I should’ve rested, I should’ve enjoyed the moment, I should’ve…

But I’d reached a point where I couldn’t breathe anymore until I finished the book.

Don’t become a writer or an entrepreneur until you have that one idea that’s possessed you for days, months, years. Else you’ll lose the will to plug away through the unending rejections and disappointments inherent in the journey (read this for a timeline of my sixty rejections).

The world doesn’t need one more “5 ways to become productive” listicle or another e-commerce app. What it craves is the one book, that one product, the one idea, that’s come from deep within your soul because if it fills your yearning, it’ll fill someone else’s.

How do you get such ideas?

Three Steps to get ideas that possess you completely.

  1. Live widely to generate a range of ideas.

I failed miserably the one time I chose a “cushy” job that allowed me to balance my corporate career and writing. I was bored, anxious, and was neither creative in my work nor in my writing. Both collapsed.
Since then, I’ve tried to find work that stretches me to the maximum and consumes my full creative energy. There’s no balance. Life is one stream of constant learning. Lean into your work, lean into your art, lean into your family, lean into your hobbies, lean into all of them or some of them at a time, depending on your capacity. But don’t hold yourself back anywhere. There are no half-measures. Make every dimension of life a fountainhead for ideas.

The best ideas are unexpected combinations of expected worlds. Johnny Gone Down was initially a travelogue-of-sorts. It didn’t work. The blood in the re-writing came when Johnny became a regular MIT grad who gets sucked into an inter-continental odyssey.

That’s why, in the gestation period of your ideas, I recommend seeking out both specific and general knowledge. Specific knowledge is in-depth knowledge of your domain eg, reading every detective story you can lay your hands on if you’re a detective fiction writer. General knowledge is getting interested in a wide variety of unrelated subjects eg, practicing say, Buddhist meditation and learning how films are made.
Do this and now you’ll end up writing about a Buddhist detective solving a murder mystery in Bollywood, for example. Much more interesting than the millionth FBI agent-turned- detective story, correct?

And the best laboratory for big, interesting idea combinations is to live a big, interesting life. Live at full throttle and become insatiably curious about a range of things and soon the ideas will rain.

  1. Feel deeply to give your ideas depth and texture.

I regretted the self-destructive decisions that led me to be single, broke, and sleeping on my sister’s couch  at age 31. Johnny Gone Down arose from that regret.

I was disappointed at how petty my thoughts were despite reading yoga and Buddhist text regularly. The Seeker/ The Yoga of Max’s Discontent was borne from this feeling of failure.

If you’re falling short of your standards in life, acknowledge it, question it, feel deeply disappointed about it, don’t numb it with self-help books and busy work. Every writer, every creator, is trying to complete an incomplete world by creating a more perfect world. Your discontent, your sadness, is beautiful. Let it be the seed that gives your ideas depth and feeling. If you’re hurting, you’ll touch hundreds of others who’re hurting too. Don’t deny yourself your pain.

P.S: Also watch this companion video on how to create an idea with meaning for your novel.

  1. Start zoning into your ideas by putting them in the public domain.

I was struggling with questions of purpose until I shot this video.I was feeling lonely until I wrote this blog. Each time I write a blog or post a video, I articulate a deep, unarticulated thought for myself and get new direction for my life.

That’s why I recommend the discipline of creating something small–a blog, a You-Tube video, anything– often. Converging streams of random, disconnected ideas into a singular thought frequently will help you get sharper and sharper on what you truly care about. Once you start getting feedback on your ideas, you’ll also know what’s striking a chord, helping you zone in even more.

The final step

Now, you’re ready to start executing against the one idea that matters to you. Radically alter your life.  Go narrow instead of wide. Become possessed by the idea and think about it all the time. Eliminate all superfluous work, family, social commitments. Become an introvert. Take a sabbatical if you have to. For days, months, years, just become consumed by bringing your idea to life. Success or failure, you’ll get a glimpse of transcendence during the process, transforming you completely.
This final step is the one decision that shifts you from consumer to a creator–and then, nothing in this world of men and hobbits is beyond your reach.

Which step of the process are you in today? Is something stopping you from taking the final step? Do drop me a note in the comments and I’ll try my best to help.