The early moments of a project are critical. It's then that the basic directions are set. It's like starting out on a hike. You can go in any direction you want, but once you start in one particular direction, that pretty well determines which way you will be going for the duration.
Stop. Give yourself some time to think, to get your thoughts out in the open, to let ideas happen, to consider alternative approaches. We human beings think slowly -- only about 300 - 400 feet per second, neuron to neuron to neuron. It takes time to be creative. So don't close too early.
Rollo May, the psychologist, once asked the question: "Why do I always get my best ideas while I'm shaving?" He answered the question by describing a functional view of creativity.
Creative insights often come during general periods of intense concentration and work. Not while you're sitting at your desk, not even while you're consciously thinking about the task, but while you're taking a walk, just waking up in the morning, driving home from work, or while you're showering or shaving. They come when least expected; usually they just pop into your head, but whole and with a sense of certainty.
The reason seems to be related to the way the subconscious and conscious minds communicate with one another. Unfettered by logic and habit, the subconscious seems to stick bits and pieces of thought together at random. Occasionally it comes up with a new combination that solves the problem at hand, fully, and in a novel way. But because it's the subconscious, you aren't aware of the answer. In moments of relaxation when the conscious mind lets down its guard, the two can link up and the solution can pop into consciousness.
So relax. Take some time to be creative. To think about the task from different perspectives, to let ideas happen. It doesn't take a lot of time but it does take some. You can't force it, but if you care about your work you can't afford not to invest time in exploring your ideas and your data.
You'll find this build-up and release particularly useful if you are one of the many people for whom the hardest part of writing is getting started. (This is an instance of what we mean by "managing your thinking.")
By getting your ideas and data out of your head and into a spatial configuration, you overcome the limits of short-term memory -- 4 or 5 ideas at most. You can now literally see the ideas you have to work with.
This is "bottom-up" thinking. Later you will use a top-down strategy to organize the document you will write. But for now, the goal is simply to gain familiarity with the material.
Exploration can be modified in several ways for special kinds of writing tasks. For example, pause 5 - 10 seconds before you make a telephone call to clear your mind and focus on what you want to accomplish. For large group projects, try having the group as a whole to go through a similar exploration and brainstorming before setting initial directions for the project. We'll come back to these and other adaptations in Part 3.
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