Monday, September 06, 2010

On ideas.

Yes, my blog posting has been slow as of late. Blame working on funding proposals, a lack of good sleep or the phase of the moon if you like. The real problem, though, has been one far more mundane and frustrating: a lack of good ideas.

Ideas are the currency of my career, really, along with hard work and technical skills. Some ideas can be turned into research directions, others into specific solutions to technical problems, and still others become blog posts. Research is, after all, a creative enterprise. What to do, then, when ideas run dry?

The short answer is that I don't think that ideas ever do run dry. We are surrounded by a whole ether of ideas, after all. The trick is finding those ideas which solve your problem, ideas which motivate you, ideas which others may find interesting. It is less, then, that I am short on ideas so much as I am short on ideas that are applicable to the tasks in front of me, including blogging.

Or is it that I am lacking the discipline and energy to refine those ideas into proper posts? After all, writing (like research) doesn't stop with ideas, as Gaiman so gracefully puts it in an essay on writing:
The Ideas aren't the hard bit. They're a small component of the whole. Creating believable people who do more or less what you tell them to is much harder. And hardest by far is the process of simply sitting down and putting one word after another to construct whatever it is you're trying to build: making it interesting, making it new.
[Source: "Where Do You Get Your Ideas," an e-book extra to the Kindle edition of Anansi Boys.]
If there's one thing that life on the Internet teaches, it's that any idea is interesting when placed in the right context and explored with passion. For instance, it seems that much of science fiction works by exploring perhaps mundane ideas in fresh contexts and thus making them new, as Gaiman puts it. Snow Crash doesn't thrive because (to pick a small example out of many from that book) Neal Stephenson invented the idea of a gated community, so much as because he placed it in the context of extreme corporatism and factionalism and thus makes the idea new again in a particularly terrifying way. Manifold: Time isn't a wonderful read because Stephen Baxter invented the idea of the end of the world, but because he puts it in the context of a physically manifest observable and explores the consequences.

Certainly, authors such as Sky McKinnon write based on wonderful ideas, but I think that they have something else to teach us as well: that successful writing is the synthesis of ideas and a dogged enthusiasm for exploring ideas. In that way, writing, be it for a blog or a book, isn't so different from research, even if the tools for exploring the consequences of an idea are very different.

All this leaves me, however, with nary an excuse for my protracted blog silence. Ideas aren't my problem, after all. Oh, well. Maybe I should write a post about how ideas aren't my problem?

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