Streamline your idea to be creative

For me, the most difficult part of writing a speech is beginning with a blank page.  Usually I have a vague idea what I want to talk about, but often there are so many directions I could take it I get lost and find it difficult to begin.

The problem is that the scope of the idea is too big.  Consider the speach title A brief introduction to Philosophy.  This could be a fantastic speech, there is massive scope for including profound ideas, stories and presenting it in a creative way.  But starting with a blank page is going to be difficult.  There’s just too much to to say about the subject and no clear point to begin with.  And if you can’t get started you’ll be demoralised and lose momentum.

If you’re having trouble getting started I suggest looking at the premise of your speech and deciding if it is specific enough.

Limiting the scope of your idea is not a bad thing.  It will force your speech to become more focused, rather than meandering around a vast series of loosely related topics.  Writing will be easier as your thoughts will be rigidly bounded into a specific topic or idea.  There will be fewer things you can talk about, and therefore it will be easier to talk about them.

This concept is beautifully illustrated in Robert M. Parsig’s book, Zen and the Art of motorcycle maintainance.  When a girl tries to write an essay about the United States she can’t think of anything to say.  Her teacher suggests she narrow the subject to “the main street of Bozeman” and but she still can’t get started…

He told her angrily, “Narrow it down to the front of one building on the main street of Bozeman. The Opera House. Start with the upper left-hand brick.”

Her eyes, behind the thick-lensed glasses, opened wide. She came in the next class with a puzzled look and handed him a five-thousand-word essay on the front of the Opera House on the main street of Bozeman, Montana. “I sat in the hamburger stand across the street,” she said, “and started writing about the first brick, and the second brick, and then by the third brick it all started to come and I couldn’t stop. They thought I was crazy, and they kept kidding me, but here it all is. I don’t understand it.”

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle MaintainanceRobert M. Parsig, 1974

It is easy to be afraid of reducing the scope of your talk too much.  But the tighter the specification the easier it will be to start writing, and the more time you will have to refine and be creative with your idea.

Some great examples of using a very specific premise to begin a creative process can be seen in this video I recently watched over at the Gel conference website.  The author of accepts requests for songs that are amusing and extremely specific. Check out his response to the following bizarre request:

“Please compose and record a song extolling the virtues of your Web site in which the lengths of the words can also be used as a mnemonic for at least the first 50 digits of pi. In other words, the first word has three letters, the second word one letter, the third word four letters, and so on.”

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