Turn thoughts into things

Great! You’ve got a brilliant idea.

You’re excited about it and you can’t stop thinking about how awesome this concept could be.

Maybe if you’re extremely fortunate, you have a host of thoughts buzzing around your head.

But if you’re like most people, you don’t do the next five things that separate the truly productive, creative people from the rest of the dreamers.

Here’s five steps to get those ideas out of your head to make room for the next batch.

1. Flesh out your idea

A thought is not a thing.

Drawings, scripts, sketches, documents, photographs, music and movies – now those are things.

It’s critical that you turn your thought into a thing in the shortest amount of time.

You can’t bottle up inspiration. You can’t put it in a ziplock, toss it in the freezer, and fish it out later. It’s instantly perishable if you don’t eat it while it’s fresh. – Jason Fried, Getting Real

It’s about transforming the abstract into an artifact.

Once your idea has a physical form you can show it to someone. Which brings us to number 2.

2. Find feedback

There’s only one way to find out if what you have is good. You have to ask someone.

Select your audience carefully. Preferably one or more people who are supportive, but also likely to tell you the truth and give constructive feedback.

So not your Mom. And not your boss.

I’d start with other artists, or trusted friends.

Take into account the different backgrounds of the reviewers. For some people, a rough sketch is all they need to “get it”. Others might need to see an animatic, or hear a soundtrack with scratch dialog, or see a test render before they really understand what you’re trying to communicate.

Remember they’re critiquing your work – not you.

3. Finish it

I can guarantee this is the step most people don’t do.

If you have the time and energy to complete the entire project – good for you! But I’ll let you in on a secret …

You don’t have to finish the whole thing.

But you must finish at least one phase of it.

As an example, if you have an idea for an animated short film, develop it to the point where the script is finished.

If you’re doing visual development, or character design – don’t just do one setting or one character. Finish them all.

If you’ve taken the trouble to do 80% of the storyboards, you might as well finish the rest off, because then you have a completed unit of work.

You’ll feel better. Your brain says you’re done for that portion.

Time to move on to the last two steps.

4. File it

Put your documents, drawings, scripts, soundtracks and designs away where you can easily find them again.

Don’t repeat the same mistake I made.

I once had to scan in and retype not one, but two short film scripts because I’d lost the original files.

You never know when you’re going to need what you’ve created.

5. Forget about it

By this stage, you have one or more completed artifacts that represents your idea and you’ve had some feedback and you know where to find the materials in the future.

Congratulations! Now forget about it.

If you’ve got the energy, passion, time and resources, then by all means continue until you run out of puff, but after that: just stop and move on.

There are two psychological tricks going on here:

Firstly, your brain is now free of the finished project and can now start work dreaming up the next big idea.

Secondly, at some point in the future an opportunity may arise where you can reuse your idea.

They say that luck is when opportunity meets preparedness. Here’s what that looks like:

  • You meet someone at a party who is looking for ideas.
  • You stumble across a film festival seeking submissions.
  • A friend wants a concept so they can practise using some new software.


If you’ve already got a handful of fleshed-out, finished ideas with feedback, all filed away ready to go you are in great shape.

All the best.

Looking forward to seeing you turn your ideas into something concrete.

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