When it comes to motivating yourself as a writer, whatever works, works. Take Mark Twain, for instance. His output is legendary: when he was off and running, he was known to write 50 pages a day. That’s right, 50 pages a day! But even Twain sometimes took a while to get going. According to a story my mom Dorothy told me, Twain kept a barrel in his house and when he had a new project percolating, he’d jot down any ideas about it that popped into his head on scraps of paper and toss them into the barrel. Once it began filling up, he figured he had enough material, so he’d pull all the scraps out and get started.
I don’t know if this strategy helped him pen Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn, but I’m very fond of this tale. There’s something about the casual yet purposeful way in which Twain approached starting anew that really appeals to me. It also raises an intriguing question: did simply having the barrel ready and waiting spark the ideas that Twain dropped into it? Was the barrel his own personal idea magnet?
Sometimes, just signalling to the universe that you’re open to receiving is all you need to do to get your creative juices flowing. Twain used a barrel, but you can do the same thing by carrying a little notebook with you or an index card or dropping your ideas about a project into a special box. Nature abhors a vacuum, as my good friend and mentor Rob Gilbert puts it. If you want ideas to start flowing in your direction, he suggests another simple approach: just get an empty manila envelope, write your project title on it, and start carrying it around with you; almost magically, it will start filling up with articles, notes, and leads.
Whatever you choose as a lightning rod for your ideas, it seems like a great way to launch something new, doesn’t it?