How to Build an Idea, Quick!


Need to force yourself to start that essay?

Want to make a good start on your coursework the second it’s announced?

I’ve got a good way to get the creative juices flowing.

It’s a quick way to throw an idea out there before you do any detailed research. No matter how much you end up using, the idea is to wrap your head around the work in a way that practically prepares you.

Spend 10-20mins writing out what you *think* you want to say in the essay. That’s it. Forget the need to back up your point with references. Don’t worry about getting it “right”.

Just let rip on your initial thoughts around the topic.

Don’t worry about how strange it sounds when you get the words down. The words may turn out to be rubbish. But that’s not the point of this exercise. No judgement here!

The aim is to have something written. It’s a start.

There’s something magical in firing up the mental process, even when you end up submitting something completely different.

And that’s okay. You may decide to discard all of this later down the line. But for now, this is a great route to building an idea quickly. Much better than fearing the blinking cursor on a blank white page. There’s no time for that when you’re jotting down the first ideas that come to your mind.

Your initial point of view is all that matters:

  • What is your take on the subject?
  • Does one view speak more to you than others? Do you want to look in several directions?
  • Does the whole concept confuse you?
  • What other feelings do you have? What interests you about the question? Where are the open-ended thoughts?
  • How does this reflect on what you’ve already been learning in the course/module so far?

When you do start the detailed research and assessment, you can see how your hypothesis compares with your findings. You can compare your ideas now with how they started off.

The point is, you get started with an idea that takes you no time at all to create. You form an argument that gets you thinking. And it saves you time further on in the process.


Armed with this quick start, you may feel like you’re on a roll. Raring to go, it shouldn’t take you long to write down even more thoughts to bolster up your idea.

When you are full of inspiration like that, crack on for another 20-30 minutes and draft a simple outline:

  • Think about how you would marry up the argument with the essay.
  • Write a potential introductory paragraph.
  • Attempt a conclusion based on your initial thoughts.

It’s unlikely your final draft will look like your first thoughts, but this is a chance to see how realistic your view feels. Your first steps into further research will soon tell you when you’re onto something.

Finally, note down a few points you want to explore in the main content of the essay. This will be a good starting point for finding references and supporting material.

In no more than an hour or so, you may be well on the way to a solid framework. No more starting on a blank page, and no more overwhelm when considering where to begin.

As your confidence builds, you may find this method a good one to return to. That hour can get you several hundred words and a prepared mind.

That’s why, even if you scrap most of the content, the process spurs you on.

From an essay title to a potential idea and a few words. It’s surprising how much you can get done in such a short space of time.


Why does this work? Because you either:

  • …know what you want to say and don’t know how feasible it sounds until you write it up in draft.
  • …don’t know what you want to say and need to create a something based on a little guesswork and hope.

The worst that can happen is that you’ll end up doing something else entirely. No big deal, because the process doesn’t take long at all.

And anything positive you get out of it is a bonus. Worth investing the small amount of time and effort it takes.

The more confident you are about the content, the more likely you’ll find some gold straight away too. What’s not to like?

Next time you’re given some coursework, I bet it’ll feel good to have some ideas, an outline, and maybe even a few hundred words written practically straight away.

All this before you’ve put another research-step forward…

When “Just Do It” Doesn’t Do It

We worry too much.  All too often, we look everywhere but the blank page and our own ideas.  We obtain reams of paper and gigabytes of data, only to feel like we’re missing something crucial.

One short, hard-hitting piece of advice to bring you back on track is “Just do it”.  It’s not a bad piece of advice.

But it’s not enough.

On its own, “Just do it” makes sense, but it’s too cold a command.  For someone with a lack of inspiration, how can an obvious three word sentence set off a spark?

photo by mushi_king

photo by mushi_king

Lack of inspiration can manifest in many ways.  It may stem from a lack of confidence, a cautious attitude, no trust in your research findings, or even the opinions of your friends and study group.  But it doesn’t have to eat away at you until you realise there’s not enough time to make a half-hearted attempt at goodness.  Here are some short thoughts on getting on with it:

  • Surround yourself with positive people who can give you drive and enthusiasm in everything you do.
  • Replace caution with a “let’s see what if…” approach.  It’s similar to “Just do it”, but with more overview to change what you’re doing if it isn’t working.
  • Prepare to find your best moments in flashes of spontaneity and inspiration, rather than through lengthy research and reading processes.
  • Note down your own brief ideas and work around what’s missing that way.
  • Don’t spend too much time planning your next moves.
  • Leave doubting for later.  MUCH later.  If you question your ability, you destroy creativity in the process.  Don’t close down by questioning yourself; open up with ideas and interest.
  • Don’t listen to your Internal Editor!

Moving to a positive position helps make “Just do it” feel less commanding and more uplifting.  And when “Just do it” becomes “Done”, the world seems an even better place.  What are you going to do today?

Be inspired, no matter what the situation

Now you’re graduating/finishing the year/on your way to uni after the summer, I thought I’d give you some purposefully broad, positive points for you to think about over the weekend.

Enquire Within Upon Everything (photo by adactio)

From the image above, we can gain inspiration from many things.  Just the title of the book in the photo should be enough to spur you on:

Enquire Within Upon Everything

Adactio on Flickr (who took the photo and who kindly places it under a Creative Commons license) says that the book is a Victorian guide to life.

“When Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, he briefly toyed with the idea of calling it Enquire Within Upon Everything”

I can fully understand why.  However, I’m not sure we’d like putting ‘EWUE’ in front of web addresses, as opposed to ‘WWW’…

Anyway, here are 10 more actions to help inspire you, wherever you currently stand:

  1. Enjoy every moment, naturally.
  2. Dare to do it.
  3. Focus on your whole life’s achievements, not just the courses you study.  Your future is based on you, not on a piece of paper.
  4. If you’re not doing it yet, start right now!  Leave your excuses for yesterday and you’ll never see them again.
  5. Think ‘people’, not ‘job’.  Think ‘community’, not ‘task’.
  6. Embrace the here and now.  Look forward to the future, but don’t get bogged down in plans.  The only place you’re ever at is RIGHT NOW.
  7. Develop your skills on a rolling basis…unless you’re plain lucky, you’re not going to hit the top at the start, so enjoy every task you put your mind to and always focus on your personal and professional development.
  8. Network in creative ways.  Even if you’re not from Oxbridge or similar, who’s to say you can’t easily build a powerful set of contacts?
  9. Read.  Properly read.  And that includes books.  We’re evolving to the point of becoming skim-readers and gluttons for potted-histories.  When was the last time you casually sat down and read something totally stimulating?
  10. The sky may be the limit, but why not also focus around the immediate area and realise all the things that you hadn’t even noticed before?  With this attitude you can never get bored.

I hope you find something here to get you thinking and keep you going.  Would you like me to expand on any of the broad points I’ve raised here?  Let me know.  And what experiences have you had in the past that sent you into a positive frenzy?