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The day-to-day business of grand ideas

Thinking about connecting inner needs to external reality earlier this week prompted an explanation for why I sometimes feel like I have an overwhelming number of things I’d like to do, yet find myself unsure what to do at some particular time of the day: I have plenty of grand ideas to write novels, create computer software, or research interesting topics, but I haven’t translated those grand ideas into the concrete steps required to make them happen. Or, if I have, the particular steps in front of me right now don’t seem particularly appealing, like debugging the software or reading piles of academic papers that may or may not contain the information I want.

Perhaps because I have more experience in computer programming than anything else, I’ve developed strategies to turn the grand idea into steps that are both manageable and interesting enough in their own right to keep me motivated. I can implement a piece of software one feature at a time, being rewarded with increasingly-functional software along the way, until the whole thing is done. I can do this to a large extent when writing research reports, too, by tackling one sub-topic after another.

The obvious parallel when writing fiction would be to write one scene at a time, and I do this if only because it’s hard to think of any other way to write, but I don’t always have an idea of what scene comes next and one scene by itself rarely has the same impact as completing an extra feature on a piece of software. Perhaps I’ll get better with practice (or maybe I need to write better more satisfying scenes).

Establishing a consultancy is perhaps more difficult again because I have even less experience in business. Every now and again I have images of an organisation staffed by research consultants in all kinds of disciplines, and it’s fun to wonder about how such an organisation might be structured and how I might configure the software behind it, but right now it has one consultant and no clients, and only a very rough and uncertain idea of how that might change.

By coincidence, the ABC published an article on the role of “grit” in producing great work while I was writing this entry. People sometimes talk as if great works are produced by strokes of genius that appear to artists and scientists out of nowhere, something like the way I’m thinking when I’m dreaming of all those grand ideas. But, in reality, mastering science and engineering, or writing a novel, requires an enormous amount of effort (“grit”) that only looks like a work of genius once all of the false starts, debugging and editing are a distant memory.

Perhaps I also need to think the other way around, and remind myself that the seemingly-boring step in front of me is going to one day realise that grand idea.

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