When I started this blog, I had more post ideas than I knew what to do with. It seemed like everything I encountered, everything I thought about, could become the topic for a post. I loved the feeling that I was starting to develop the eye of a writer for interesting facets of the world we live in. I started keeping a list of my ideas for future blog posts, a place where half-formed ideas could wait until the right time to be fleshed out. Habits of Variety, Soak the nut, and Optimization Metrics are all examples of ideas I put in storage that eventually turned into posts I’m really happy about.
But I noticed a side effect of my list of ideas getting longer: I’ve stopped adding to it. Maybe I have a new idea from time to time, but I feel like every week is a struggle to decide which old thing on my list to write about. I miss the exciting feeling that any thought that crosses my mind could become this week’s post.
Here are my hypotheses for why this might be happening:
1. I’m just running out of ideas.
Some of my topics, like Don’t hold back or Why we experience regret, were things I was thinking about long before I started blogging regularly: only a few, like The quest for a dresser or What can I say? Nothing, were reacting to recent events. Maybe most of what I’ve been writing has been gradually exhausting a finite supply of ideas I’ve had for a long time, and when they run out I won’t be able to keep up my once-a-week pace.
2. I have some kind of internal sense of having enough ideas already.
Maybe it’s just that looking at a long list of ideas every week makes me not want to add more: perhaps I feel unconsciously as though once my list gets longer than I can see all at once, there’s no point in trying to add more to it.
3. I’m looking to my list for ideas instead of thinking them up fresh.
Perhaps the change is only one of habit: instead of thinking throughout the week about what I might write on, my routine has become to pull up the list when Wednesday gets closer and see what old topic I might drag out.
4. I’m imagining it!
Perhaps I’m actually coming up with ideas at the same rate as ever, but with so many old and new choices every week the difficulty I’m sensing is that of narrowing down the possibilities to just one post. Since everything on my list seems equally old, I only feel like I’m trawling my old ideas but I’m actually using new ones frequently.
So how can I know what’s really going on? Well, these different hypotheses would mean different things for how my idea-to-post process goes: For example, hypotheses 1, 2, and 3 would imply that most of my ideas were logged long before they became posts, while hypothesis 4 suggests that there are more posts based on recent ideas than I’m aware of. If I got rid of my list and started over, hypotheses 1 and 4 suggest that I’d find it equally difficult or slightly harder to decide what to write about each week, while hypothesis 2 suggests that that would actually stimulate new ideas. According to hypothesis 3, the lack of past ideas would initially make it difficult to come up with post topics, but once I break the “look to the list” habit I’d notice an increase in spontaneous ideas.
So here’s my plan for the new year: I’m archiving my old list of ideas, and starting a new one. Each topic will get a start date for when I add it to the list, and when it becomes a post I will add an end date and move it to a “completed topics” section instead of just deleting it. That way I can keep track of how frequently I have new ideas, and how long it takes them to become posts, which should give me a sense of which hypotheses are false and which are closer to the truth.
Have you ever had the sense that your well of inspiration runs dry after a while? What do you do to keep it full or get it going again?