How do you come up with ideas regularly? Not just any ideas, but solid ideas, lots of ‘em, and on a schedule? That is exactly the lesson I have been learning and integrating since starting this podcast in the fall of 2019, and what I’ve learned about it is exactly what I’ll be sharing with you in today’s episode .
It’s part of a week of episodes on podcasting itself–which is what I’m most often interviewed about, funnily enough, and not anything specifically related to being a better person. Except that podcasting absolutely has made me a better person in a lot of ways. That’s something I’ll cover in Friday’s episode–How Podcasting (or Any Passion Project) Is Like a Personal Development Seminar.
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Today I’m sharing with you the four places I regularly find inspiration
As well as what I’ve learned about taking those ideas out of my head and getting them out into the world. Let’s start with the four sources of inspiration.
First up is Source material
As you likely know–at least, I hope you know, or else I haven’t been talking about it enough!–I wrote called How to Be a Better Person, into which I poured 401 distinct ideas. So when I am well and truly stuck, I can look at my own book. You may be thinking, psst, I haven’t written a book! But you have likely created something else that relates to what you’re now working on. It’s not going to be as simple as copying and pasting from what you already produced into what you’re working on now–I literally thought I would be able to do that when I first started podcasting, that I could choose an entry from my book, riff on that topic for a bit off the top of my head and then read that tip. But it just didn’t work.
The medium definitely shapes the message and a podcast is just way more conversational than a book. BUT, I can often find the nugget of the idea in the book and then spin that into something that’s chattier and more robust. Look back at what you might have hidden in a piece you’ve already written, even if it’s a text string you had with a friend, or an email to a friend. A lot of times an idea doesn’t need to be NEW to be good and interesting; it just needs to be tweaked, or turned a quarter turn.
Honestly, the most common way I think up ideas for podcast episodes is to think objectively about what I am going through–particularly the things I’m struggling with, although I also challenge myself to think about what I’m currently doing well–because the things that come easy to us are often hard for other people. I say challenge myself because our brains are wired to focus more on what’s NOT working–it’s our negativity bias that you’ve probably heard me and many other people talking about, and it’s real.
Usually what I’m managing reasonably well is something that I was struggling with at some earlier point–my episodes on exercise that I did last week came because I’ve been really paying more attention to moving my body more since I got my menopause wings during the pandemic, and I’m experiencing the benefits, and my work as a ghostwriter of health books got me to learn more about the incredible benefits of exercise particularly as we get older, and BOOM, there’s a theme.
I also experienced a time about five years ago when I kind of gave up on exercise because my personal trainer quit and my kids were little and things felt so busy and man, did I regret that decision when I started experiencing back pain. SO. Look to your own life, and think about it through a universal lens–your situation will be unique, but what are the themes that can apply to a range of situations?
Nora Ephron, one of my favorite essayists, was raised by journalists, and her mother told her, “everything is copy.”
While people you don’t know aren’t going to be interested in every piece of minutiae about your life, they will resonate with your specific experience of a broader them they have faced, too. Say, your partner broke his ankle and you found yourself mad at him instead of sympathetic, at least at first (yes, this is something I experienced)–other people may not have had a partner break their ankle, but they’ve likely experienced anger that surprised them.
Other people’s lives
Whether this is friends, family members, subjects of documentaries, or characters in your favorite shows or books–your empathy for someone else’s experience can help you discern topics that people are struggling with, and then filtered through your own lens and research (please do research–it’s just so easy to do these days although you do need to be able to discern what is trustworthy and what isn’t…hmmm, there’s an idea for a future podcast! See?! They’re everywhere!) Seriously though, having conversations with friends, family members, your hair dresser, the person who rings you up at the grocery store–they can all spark your ideas when something you discuss rings your inner bell of, this is something we need to talk about more. This does require that you listen and be receptive and be thoughtful–all things that are skills
Other people’s work
One of my favorite ways to break up my work day is to read articles that I see in my social media feed, or that pop up when i open a new browser window. Although it’s something I feel some conflict about – do I really need to read this article on how we should be mining e-waste for minerals instead of the earth at the exact moment when I’m trying to write something that is due soon? It’s also how I get a lot of ideas about things I can run through the better person lens. And that is productive.
I’m a reader through and through so reading articles, the Sunday newspaper, books, poems is my favorite way to glean ideas–I think of it like a blue whale, which doesn’t have teeth–it has a baleen, which is like a giant filter that allows the tiny creatures and plankton that the whale eats to flow into their mouths. A lot of ideas get in from reading but not everything gets digested and turned in to actual work. Maybe you’re not a reader but you love to listen to things, like podcasts and audiobooks, or you’re a watcher and you love to watch YouTube videos on your favorite subjects or documentaries or what have you. What I love about getting inspiration from other people’s work is that it’s a great excuse to do your favorite thing–read, listen, or watch.
Of course, you don’t want to take someone else’s idea wholesale and pass it off as your own. I don’t really need to say that, right? And, not all content consuming you do needs to have the purpose of coming up with ideas because it can absolutely just be a pleasurable thing that you enjoy. BUT, exposing yourself to ideas breeds ideas.
Once you’ve got your ideas, well, the best thing I can tell you about how to get them out into the world is to commit to some kind of structure
Whether that’s a class, or a challenge, starting a blog on Medium or a YouTube channel, or, ahem, launching a daily podcast. Ideas are great and wonderful but if they don’t get a chance to take form and fly out of your nest and into the world, well…. They are, as they say, nice ideas. You’ve got to find something that gets you on the hook to ship the work–to publish it, share it, put it in a form where other people can interact with it.
As Seth Godin says, If it doesn’t ship, it doesn’t count.
I found that giving myself an audacious goal, such as publishing 5 episodes a week, was actually helpful in getting me to really embrace ‘good enough.’
The relentlessness of that schedule got me to clean up my creative act–I write 5 episodes at once, and record them on one track. And I’ve got to get them to my editors in plenty of time–which isn’t always easy but very nearly always happens, ha–and it has just built my muscles around not overthinking and just doing it. It’s like newspaper reporters can sit down and bang out an article in 30 minutes when on deadline–it’s a skill that’s honed through practice. Maybe your goal doesn’t need to be as audacious, but man does it help to put yourself on the hook. You’ve ALSO got to share that work because if you think no one cares, well, you won’t be inspired to keep going. Every time you hear from someone who appreciated something about your work–or even hated it!–it’s fuel to keep going.
Daily Tiny Assignment
Your tiny assignment is to start noticing where you get your ideas. Maybe it’s from one of the places I shared today, maybe it’s somewhere totally different–like, maybe they come to you when you’re taking a shower or weeding the garden. Just take notice of what conditions help give you ideas and make yourself a list of them somewhere, so that next time you feel like you’re fresh out of ideas, you’ll know what to do to get back into that inspired thinking again.
I’ll talk more about getting comfortable with sharing your stuff with the world and embracing consistency–two things I’ve had to engage with, big time, thanks to this podcast–in Friday’s episode. So come on back for that! But also, come back tomorrow, when I’m interviewing podcasting influencer and champion Arielle Nissenblatt about why podcasts are so hot, and whether listening to or creating podcasts can make you a better person.