And yet another book is out! In this case it’s my Superheroes and Worldbuilding book. I’m continuing my mini-worldbuilding books with one on Superheroes (and it mostly focuses specifically on heroes – villains may be forthcoming). So if you’re thinking about a setting with capes and heroics, give it a check!
OK I’ve hinted at it or talked about it but it’s here – my book on Agile Creativity!
This is the result of experimentation, research, discussions, and blogging – a guide to how to use Agile in creative efforts. However this isn’t about specific methods – this is about mindset.
Do you really understand value? How can you get more done by doing less? Are you supporting yourself so things happen – not trying to force them to happen?
I dive into the Agile Software Manifesto and the Principles behind it – and then focus on how to take these ideas and use them for art, writing, and more! Let’s get Agile, get Creative – and get more done with less stress!
Of course I assume you’re actually getting things done during this time by whatever method of productivity you choose. So let’s talk what to do to follow up once you get things done.
Make sure you have a way to look at one of your projects and say “yeah, that’s done at least for now.” This way you can confidently say you’ve completed what you set out to do. This could be something as solid as a published book, or as ephemeral as a website update you know you’ll change tomorrow. Learn how to say “this is done.”
Defining “Done” means you can complete work. You can evaluate. You can deliver a product. You can relax. “Done” is vitally important to define – so do it as early as possible, including as early as possible when you’re maintaining your lists of all these ideas.
When you do decide something is “Done” have your Brainstorm Book handy – that “Done” will probably inspire other ideas.
Plus you get the peace of mind of something being over.
It’s important to have a regular Retrospective – a review of how things have gone. I recommend two times to do them – in fact, I recommend both:
On a Retrospective review the following:
After this review, you should actually ask what concrete actions will you take in the future to make things run better. This could be doing things you did right more, it could be fixing things, it could be staying aware of issues.
Retrospectives help you understand how you brought ideas to life, and how work went from a scrawl in a Brainstorm Book to being real. They spawn new ideas and help you understand your creative process.
Plus each time, you get better.
Finally, keep an success list. Every month list out what you achieved that month to move your plans forward. That should include:
Reviewing your successess helps you see the results of your actions, appreciate them – and provides you reminders that you can get these things done. It builds habit of self-reinforcement.
All those ideas in your Brainstorm Book? This is when you see that you can make your dreams real.
Always remember that your brilliant ideas aren’t done when they finish. You want to take time to figure out how to end them, how to review them, and how to learn. That helps tie together all you did and all you learn and all you do at the end.
It’s important to have these kind of closing rituals to know you’ve ended things correctly. And of course, you’ll come up with new things to do or tweak my ideas – good.
Keep learning because even though things are done, creativity doesn’t end . . .
You’ve got a Brainstorm Book, you put ideas in it, then sorted them into various groups. You have your Archives, Incubator, Backlog, and Current Backlog. So, now what?
First, with the Current Backlog is self-explanatory – you’re doing that now. That’s your “getting things done in the near future” thing – and if you don’t have a system to do that, I have a free book for you.
But let’s talk the rest of the lists.
The Archives are where you put ideas you like, but aren’t sure if you want to do. Of course, what do you do with them since they kinda sit there.
As you add to them in each Review, consider the following:
The rule I use with Archives is “is there any value in keeping this?” When there’s not, get rid of it somehow.
After awhile, you may find these things getting overlarge and need to do a review. Do this every six months, and set a timebox to an hour.
The Incubator is your “want-to-do-but-not-sure-when” box. It’s things you haven’t yet put on your schedule but are sure you’ll probably want to do.
Review the Incubator once a month for an hour – if you want, you can do it as part of one of your regular Brainstorm book reviews. While reviewing it do the following:
As always, keep the Incubator in order of priority – with nothing of equal importance. That forcing-the-issue will really help you keep track of what you want to do and set your priorities.
The Backlog is where you keep your definitely-going-to-do items. Again, in order of importance – however there’s an important difference.
By the time something gets to the Backlog, you’re probably already thinking of how to break it down into pieces of work. If you’re not, you should, because a lot of great ideas take time to do, so you don’t do them all at once.
So remember, as you keep your Backlog and polish it, feel free to start prioritizing the parts of things you want to do. Maybe make the priority also reflect chronological order. Maybe think of what’s the most important stuff you can do first.
EXAMPLE: You really want to write and publish a short story. That can be broken down into several “stories” on their own – writing out the plot, doing the story, editing, etc. By the time that story idea hits the Backlog, you can break it down, in order, and maybe even have an idea of when you want to do things (which also affects order).
Review your Backlog once a month, and whenever you think you should. I usually find I look at it once to three times a month as I get new ideas, or review my Brainstorm Book, or get new feedback. Your Backlog is your roadmap to the future – take it seriously.
When reviewing consider:
Well, this is the list of stuff you’re trying to do right now so you’re probably looking at it daily. I’ll assume you’re fine here.
So you’ll find yourself reviewing your past brainstorms, you’ll most likely find that you’re having new ideas as well. Which is good, but kind of annoying as you’re busy.
This is of course great because, hey, new ideas – plus you see that your imagination is working away. But again, you’re busy.
What I do is take these ideas and put them in my Brainstorm Book so I don’t get distracted, unless the idea is so absolutely stunning it must go in my documents. You have to make the judgement call, but I’d say err on the side of caution and jot it down for later.
You’re now regularly reviewing the documents that are . . . created from your Brainstorm Book reviews. So why do these matter to you?
By now you have a Brainstorm Book system. However, I have a few more ideas for you.
There’s a Tibetan Buddhist tradition where monks spend days building beautiful mandalas of sand, illustrating various principles. Then at the end of this long ritual, they destroy the entire thing. It is a nicely evocative example of the impermanence of all things – and a lesson to writers and artists.
Imagine you are making a mandala, knowing it will be destroyed. You craft it perfectly, knowing it’s impermanent. Every step is temporary, each precise.
Imagine working as people gather around you, in awe, looking at it, wondering. They marvel art artistry, think over the meaning, ask questions. Then they go on their way.
Then you spin it or scrape it away or let the wind come in and it’s all gone.
That’s very likely to be your book – any book. That’s likely to be your art – any art. Few of us will be spoken of in centuries, let alone years ,let alone ever. We’re unlikely to be Kameron Hurley or Terry Pratchett or any of the other greats. We’re temporary things, but in the end we’ll be sand – and even the greats will probably stick around a bit longer before they’re footnotes and records.
It’s worth it.
First, it’s worth it because art is what you do. That is your expression. That is who you are. Be it for religion or creativity or to speak or even money, that’s you and what you do.
Second, it’s what you learn by doing this. The craft, the knowledge, the self-reflection. Each step in your own impermanent work tells you something more. Each step changes you – because you too are an impermanent, shifting, collection, so make it a good one.
Finally, it’s that crowd gathered around you, watching and learning. They may not take home the mandala, they may not see it again. But they’ll think, and learn, and contemplate. You may just touch hearts – they don’t need to take a picture or have their own copy to do that.
What many of us artists can hope for is not immortality as creators – and it’s not what we should hope for. In these impermanent moments we leave behind something greater, not as a work praised for the ages, but in influencing ourselves and others. Just because your book is forgotten a year or two from now, doesn’t mean it didn’t matter or have an effect.
It’s pretty much the same as how I take the Buddhist idea of Projected Karma – that thing that has an influence down the road. Influence of action, not permanence of creation.
Just like the Mandala teaches, so can you work. It doesn’t have to be forever – and indeed it shouldn’t be. Nothing is, and clinging to past forms, worn and tired, isn’t immortality, it’s a specific kind of hell.
Let the sand be sand. Don’t mummify your creativity in the hope people will stare at it dumbly, unmoved, un-involved. Let it be a living thing and go where it may, even when it may die.
Think of how liberating that is.
Now that you have a Brainstorm Book and are filling it with ideas, you need to review it. When you review it, you’ll go through the contents, go over your ideas, and figure what to do with them. That means coming up with a review schedule – but also coming up with a way to organize these ideas.
First, set up a time to review your Brainstorm Book. You want to find a schedule that’s going to work best for you and not drive you up a wall. I recommend one of the following two choices:
Now it’s OK to, now and then move the time around a bit, but don’t get too radical. Good, solid, regular review should become a habit so you make the time to do it.
But what do you do? Well, when you review you need to set a few things up in your notes. Let’s get ready for a review.
Remember, set this up before your review begins.
When you review a Brainstorm Book, you’ll sort ideas into four separate files. Now that may sound like a lot, but bear with me.
Here’s the four ways I keep ideas.
Yeah, it sounds like a lot, but I keep the Incubator, Backlog, and Monthly backlog in the same spreadsheet.
If you’re familiar with Agile methods, specifically Scrum, some of this may look familiar – that’s because it comes from a mix of my own experience, Scrum, and the Getting Things Done method of David Allen. I sum this up more in the next chapter but to give you an idea:
I use my personal version of Scrum, where I plan work monthly. Every month I determine what I can do (from my regular tasks and Backlog) and then commit to that. Then at the end of the month I re-evaluate.
(You can also get a detailed guide here)
Now you know what you have toset up, let’s talk about how we use the review.
When you sit down to to a Brainstorm Book review, commit to taking one hour to do it. You may not use all of the time – but sometimes you will. You may also find yourself needing to go over, which is fine, but if it’s a habit you may want to get more efficient.
With that time set aside, do the following:
First you take your Brainstorm book, and go to the latest page that needs revieweed (I mark pages as I review them). You look at the idea or ideas there and decide what to do with each:
Simple, isn’t it? You look at ideas and determine how important they are, then put them in the proper areas. It’s intended to be simple because we don’t want to overcomplicate this. Next chapter, we’ll talk how to use these gatherings of ideas in more detail.
Why The Review Matters
Now that you’ve started to do your reviews, why are they helpful? Well, first after a review or two you’ll see why they matter, but heres a quick summary:
This prioritization helps you get ready for long-term planning to bring your ideas to life. In fact, that’s the next chapter.
Lately I’ve been talking about how we need to focus on our work to get anything done. My friend Serdar has been following up on my musings, with discussing selecting work as triage or how we select our work carefully like a DJ. Each column is a reading-worthy videpoint.
However, I have come to dislike the triage metaphor, and in further discussions with him, came to the realization that we creatives, writers, etc. often look at limiting ourselves as bad.
We don’t want to limit ourselves. We want to tell every story, explore every nook, paint in colors no one has yet seen. We want to do it all. Creativity means a head full of infinity in a mortal frame that has to pick and choose what parts of that endlessness to let into the world.
We make it even harder because we often talk about our need to be selective and to cultivate work in negative ways. Triage. Limitation. Pairing ideas down. Killing your darlings. We come up with the most negative ways to talk about this, ensuring of course we want to do it less.
Thats the problem. So let me make a suggestion – as a creative don’t talk about choosing what work to do in the negative, find positive terms. Yes it’s a psychological trick, but by using negative terms you’ve already been tricked into seeing this as a bad thing.
Think of it as:
So I challenge you as a creator to look at your need to focus and find the most postivie way to look at it that is still rational. Find a way to see the good in it, and you’ll be able to focus better and more effectively. In doing so, your need to make choices will be much easier.
You don’t need triage when the DJ has you dancing to the best tunes already.
Last time I discussed the many creative challenges we face – and how I solve it with a Brainstorm Book.
At it’s simplest the idea of the Brainstorm Book is that you have something you write ideas in, and then extract them at a later time. I’ve got specific methods and ways of doing this that make it extremely effective.
But before we get to those methods let’s get to the Book
For your Brainstorm Book, find one that is a reasonable size, that you can easily carry around in your pack/pocket/purse, and that you can attach, clip, or stick a pen in. You want something you can get to at a moment’s notice and start writing.
Usually, I go for books that are about 4” x 6” – they fit into anything but art still large enough to write in. You may find that other sizes and features fit you. However, for the first time don’t go waiting, go get a Brainstorm Book now.
You can always get a new one when this one is filled up – and it will be.
Note I only say one Brainstorm Book. In general, I avoid carrying more than one Brainstorm Book at a time so I have only the one book to go to. You may find that more than one is needed, but start with the one – I will discuss these cases later.
Let’s keep it simple.
So you’ve got this thing, now what do you do with it?
Keep the Brainstorm Book with you at all times if possible – and make sure a pen or other writing instrument is with you as well. If you have trouble doing this, find ways to keep it close -or think about a smaller book.
The reason you keep the Brainstorm Book with you is that as soon as you have a worthwhile idea, you do the following.
This is simple – you’re recording your ideas. But it raises two questions – what is worthwhile and what is enough information.
How do you know that the inspiration that just waltzed into your brain is worth putting into your Brainstorm Book? On some days we might be writing in our Brainstorm Book for hours, and we have stuff to do.
First and foremost, when in doubt, write it down – especially when starting out. Get the ideas out of your head because you’ll review them later. The habit of writing down ideas is important.
Secondly, most of the time you’ll just know an idea is good. You’ll feel something line in in your head, with your goals, with what you like. Some ideas just feel right – those should be written down.
Third, pause for a moment and ask if there’s any value to the idea – to yourself or others. An idea may need to be analyzed more before it’s value is apparent, or you’re not sure, or someone else may like it. If there’s something useful there, even if you’re unsure, record it.
In time, recording inspirations is something you’ll get better at. It’s a skill you develop.
But while recording them, we also ask just how much detail is needed.
Next, you decide to record an idea – but how much do you write down? Some of us can get an idea and go on for ages with it. Some of us have.
I record the right amount of information I need to reconstruct the idea in my head – essentially to re-inspire me. That inspiration didn’t vanish when you wrote it down and went back to other things. That idea is still in your mind, you just find what words and phrases help bring it back into your mind.
Most essential wild ideas can be recorded in a sentence or two. “Color code our department workflow by skillset” and “Steampunk dragon fighters of the Old West” may be all you need to write down. Again, you’ll find what works for you personally – and on an individual basis for each idea.
If more detail is needed – or is present in your mind – go ahead and record what seems reasonable. However, there’s really no border between thinking over an idea and developing an idea. You can, easily, find yourself lost in your latest inpiration, creating pages of thoughs.
You need to make the call how far you have to go and should go – and how valuable the idea is. However I like to separate the “detailed fleshing out” from the “writing down the idea” so I can get back to whatever I was doing and not be distracted. Such an attitude also helps us get better at reconstructing deas.
If you do this for a few weeks, you’ll probably notice some if not all of the following happening to you:
But it’s not just recording things. Next we’ll talk about how to review it.
Hello everyone, and welcome to my new column series. It’s a followup to an old series I did on how to use a brainstorm book. I’ve decided I need to rewrite to include my later insights, improve the writing, and explore it further. If all goes well I might turn it into a book.
But let’s get to what’s important – the Challenges of Creativity. These are why you need some method anyway.
Creativity is something we all rely on. For some of us, such as writers and graphic artists, it may be the core part of our careers. For others, it may be part of what we do, like creating presentations or infographics. Even if creative work isn’t part of our career it may well be part of our hobbies, recreations, and goals.
To be creative, as so many of us need to be, we need inspirations. We need those lighting-bolt ideas that come out of the blue, or slowly—incubated dreams that suddenly come to life. Inspiration is where the connections come together so we can make new things.
The problem is that creativity brings in a lot of challenges – a lot to fear.
We fear a lack of inspiration. We are terrified that our new ideas and innovations will just dry up. Without those creative sparks, we can’t do what we want to do – and the fear of losing them makes it worst.
We might fear too much innovation. Ideas come thick and fast, new possibilities intrude on our thoughts as we’re dealing with past inspirations. We get overloaded trying to keep up with what we might do – it almost makes a lack of inspiration welcome.
We fear losing ideas. No matter how many we have, too many or too few, we need to keep track of them to cultivate them and develop them. How we track them and evaluate them becomes critical to our creative work.
We fear not knowing how to focus. We have our dreams and ideas, we want to develop them – but which do we focus on? What creative work comes next?
We fear not knowing how to plan long term. It’s a problem to focus short term, but how do we arrange all these ideas for long-term? Will some never come to fruition? Should others be moved up in priority?
We fear being blocked. What do we do next? Why did this great idea suddenly stop energizing us? Perhaps the greatest fear creative people have is when things just stop in our heads.
If you sit back and think about it, creative work can be very stressful. Thinking over what can go wrong can paralyze us and make our creative efforts even harder to do. There’s an irony in that.
. . . maybe I shouldn’t have brought it up.
However, even if I’ve suddenly destroyed your confidence, I do have a solution I’ll be discussing in the upcoming blog posts – what I call a Brainstorm Book method.
The Brainstorm Book Method is actually three things.
I’ll be exploring this method over the weeks to come – to help you out with your creative work and maybe put some of those fears to rest.
Remember, this is not just for artists or writers. This is for anyone that needs to imagine, dream, and creative – which is really anyone. From home cooks innovating new recipies to someone trying to figure out better memo systems on the job, we all create.
So, next column, let’s talk about your Brainstorm Book. Er, the physical one.
As I edit A Bridge To The Quiet Planet to get it ready for my awesome professional editor, I reflected on what I went through to write the book. I see now this could have been faster if I hadn’t spent time editing as I went, chapter by chapter until the halfway point. In short, I actually aimed for quality too early.
At first this violated my expectations. Being into Agile, I figured that doing it piece by piece, making chapters available to prereaders, would result in better quality. It’s something I’ve read about authors doing before, and I’d read several articles on how instructional writing (which I’ve done for awhile) can be released in modules. Shouldn’t a story be something you can release chapter by chapter and get good feedback?
Now I’m not saying it’s a bad idea to make fiction available to prereaders in parts, but I’ve come to the conclusion that’s of very limited value. Here’s why.
Instructional and nonfiction works are often something we can break down – and indeed, should break down – into pieces that almost anyone could edit. Yes, some may miss context or seem borderline useless on their own, but nonfiction is often very modular. We process instructions, history, documentation, etc. in discreet chunks – we think step-by-step.
Nonfiction works are a lot like modular software or dishes where you can sample individual ingredients and get an idea of their combined taste.
But fictional works? They’re different.
Fictional works are much more of a whole. They’re intellectual and emotional and literary, requiring many modes of thought and feeling to appreciate them. They often have mysteries and callbacks and references – indeed, deception is part of some some fiction writing. Fiction is hard to evaluate apart from the whole of the work – to truly “get” it you need the whole experience a complete work. Finally, as fiction involves imagination, you often discover your work as you write it.
Fictional works are like software that requires a lot of code to be done before it functions or a crude alpha before it can be evaluated. They’re like a dish that you can’t appreciate until it’s done, or ones requiring careful tweaking to get “just right.”
I now realize that I could be delivering A Bridge To The Quiet Planet to you quicker if I’d decided, as opposed to editing chapter by chapter, I’d just run on and pushed myself to finish the thing and accepted it wasn’t perfect – maybe put out one or two chapters to get my groove. Now that I have a complete work, all the edits are far more richer, far more revealing, far more coherent – and much of my best edits were made when it was done and I could see the whole thing.
When I write fiction in the future, I think I need to accept that my initial effort is basically going to be like a piece of alpha software. Good planning and thought can make it a very good alpha, but my focus should be to get it done so I have enough to work from. Many things in fiction writing only become apparent once you have the whole picture.
Again, I don’t think this means you can’t put unfinished fiction up for review. I just think people need to accept the limits of such things – and ask what delivers the most value for them and the audience.
I also find this very satisfying to think of. I can accept that fiction starts imperfect because of all its factors and charge ahead, admitting it won’t be perfect. It’s just that when the imperfect version is done, the perfect version follows more easily.
(By the way that title took me forever to come up with so I hope you appreciate the attention to alliteration.)