Louis CK came onto the scene a few years ago, and he’s been tearing it up ever since. There’s one particular bit of his that has a message that I’ve been feeling the last few months. He remembers being a shitty comedian for 15 years, and in a moment of crisis, he listens to a CD of George Carlin’s comedy:
On the CD they ask him, how do you write all this material? And he says, each year I decide I’d be working on that year’s special, then I’d do that special, then I would throw away that material and start again with nothing. And I thought, that’s crazy, how do you throw away? It took me fifteen years to build this shitty hour, and if I throw it away, I got nothing.
Your ideas feel precious to you when you have them. My ideas certainly have. And that can lead to a fear of publishing them, of acting on them. For me, I fear that if I let go of one idea or another, I’ll never have a new one again.
The ideas in Instant Cocoa have felt precious. Even though those ideas were intended to be open-sourced, it took a year and a half to do so. Most of Instant Cocoa was done by last spring. I’m not sure why it took so long to release. But if I had to guess, I’d say my fear of it ending overrided my desire to see it in the world.
The post ideas for this very blog have felt precious. I’ve got a list of potential blog post topics, and I worry: what am I gonna do when I run out? And I can’t even lean on performing the same material over and over again, like Louis CK. Once I publish something here, it’s out, and it wouldn’t make sense to publish it again.
I’ve been posting on this blog weekly all year, with the exception of March, when I was working on my Úll talk and releasing Instant Cocoa. I’ve published 15 posts since January. It feels like a breakneck speed. If you asked me last year how long I could sustain such a pace, I think I would have answered, “maybe 4 weeks?”.
But I’m still going. And, somehow, even though back in December the list of potential topics had as many items on it as I’ve posted already, it’s still more or less the same length. I can’t explain it.
The act of publishing solidifies the idea into being. Like the Zeigarnik effect, it frees up space in your brain to find the next thing. The next thing will be built on the previous thing, and it’ll be stronger for it. There’s a quote that I can never find about how “the act of writing shows us how bad our thinking is”. Once we start putting pen to paper, the flaws in our reasoning bubble to the top, and we’re forced to deal with them. Tending to those inconsistencies clarifies the missing parts of the idea and shows what ideas should come next.
And as for Instant Cocoa, far from feeling like I’ll never be able to come up with anything else new for it, it now feels like I’m on the verge of a greater thing. I don’t want to call it an MVP, because another metaphor is more appropriate. It feels like an EP, and now I want to spend the time to turn it into an LP.
More ideas will come. Tons of ink has been spilled about how only execution matters, and your ideas are worthless. But rather than using that fact to tear them down, I want to build them up. Your ideas might not be important, but your ability to generate them is. One idea will never change the world; a series of successive ideas built on each other will. You’ll get farther than anyone else, since by fulfilling your ideas you’ll gain access to new parts of knowledge that no one else can. Get your stuff out there.