Solve the right problem

“A great solution to the wrong problem will always fail,” says Nielsen Norman Group’s Sarah Gibbons in her three-minute video on “User Need Statements in Design Thinking.” Nielsen Norman Group consults on website usability. However, much of what Gibbons discusses applies to other written materials, too.

User need statement

Gibbons defines a user need statement as “An actionable problem statement used to summarize who a particular user is, the user’s need, and why the need is important to that user.” Understanding this information will help you write better communications of all kinds. That includes blog posts, articles, white papers, and even emails.

It interested me that she spoke about the need to empathize with the user.

More resources

If you prefer to learn from written materials instead of video, check out Gibbons’ article on “User Need Statements: The ‘Define’ Stage in Design Thinking.”

To learn about my approach to understanding your audience, read my blog post on identifying “What problem does this blog post solve for them?” and my book, Financial Blogging: How to Write Powerful Posts That Attract Clients.


The image in the upper left is courtesy of Free photobank [CC BY-SA 4.0].

The post Solve the right problem appeared first on Susan Weiner's Blog on Investment Writing.

BEANSTALKER and OTHER HILARIOUS SCARY TALES by Kiersten White / Book Review #BeanStalker

By: Kiersten White
Published by: Scholastic
Released on: July 25th, 2017
Ages: 8 & up
Purchase Links
Add it to Goodreads
Rating: 5 Owlets
An arc of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review

What about, once upon a time, a bunch of fairy tales got twisted around to be completely hilarious, a tiny bit icky, and delightfully spooky scarytales; in other words, exactly what fairy tales were meant to be. Grab some flaming torches, maybe don’t accept that bowl of pease porridge, and get ready for a wickedly fun ride with acclaimed author Kiersten White and fairy tales like you’ve never heard them before.

Snow White is a vampire, Little Red Riding Hood is a zombie, and Cinderella is an arsonist — and that is only some of the mayhem the reader will find in this collection of fractured fairy tales.

A laugh out loud debut middle grade book from one of my favorite YA authors. Kiersten White has created my favorite mix of fractured fairytales and nursery rhymes to date! I loved the way she intertwined, and interconnected so many classics, and the spin she gave each one. If having vampires, zombies and stepmothers isn’t enough to entice you, the illustrations, and the narration will be. 

This is the perfect blend of fairytales and nursery rhymes. Who knew you could combine stories like Snow White, The Princess and the Pea, Jack & Jill, The Dish and The Spoon, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack Be Nimble, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and the Stepmother. White’s intertwining of these stories was awesome! Numerous times while reading this book I wondered how White was able to pull this off so well. 

The narration in this story is my favorite part of the entire book. Talk about sassy! The narrator definitely stole the show in this book. It’s what made this story so much fun to read. It’s not just their self awareness that makes the narrator so appealing either. The narrator would make a great language arts teacher. Numerous times in this story the narrator points out the homonym and homophone words that characters miss. Like The Princess and The Pea. Let’s just say it’s not, well, you wouldn’t want to sleep on that mattress. This narration definitely makes for the perfect, hilarious, read aloud. 

This book is a must read! It’s equal parts hilarious, and spooky, though it is way more hilarious than spooky. It’s spooky in the best way possible, because some of these characters are not the sweet, innocent characters we all grew up reading about. The spooky twists come from some of them being vampires and zombies. This may be written for middle grade readers, but it will definitely be appealing to all readers ages 8 and up. Including adults. It was part of my Halloween read up earlier this week, but this is one book that can be read all year long. 

Describing an interview-based assignment to writers

Recently a company contacted me to write an interview-based post for its blog. I’ve often done this for blog posts that show off the expertise of the company’s staff. However, what was unusual about this request was that I’d need to interview experts outside the company for the post. The need to find external experts makes an interview-based assignment more time-consuming and less attractive to writers. It’s more like writing a magazine article than a typical content marketing piece.

I learned later that the company’s marketing director had omitted an important piece of information when it described its interview-based assignment. It could have reduced my qualms about accepting an assignment requiring interviews of external experts. I describe it below.

The challenges of using external experts

Using external experts is challenging for two reasons.

First, it takes time to find and schedule them. If the writer doesn’t know relevant experts, a good deal of networking may be required to find them. That’s especially true if there’s no trade association or other group where such experts gather.

Scheduling can be more challenging than when working with a company’s internal experts. Internal experts are motivated to participate for the good of their employer (though they still can be challenging to schedule, but that’s another story). External experts don’t feel a pressing need for your company to succeed at its marketing.

Second, the experts may not wish to use their expertise on behalf of the company that’s your client. It’s generally less prestigious to appear on a corporate blog or in a corporate magazine than in a publication that’s perceived as independent. Also, the expert may worry about appearing to endorse the products or services offered by your client. On the other hand, some corporate publications don’t quote experts by name. That’s even worse because the expert gets no visibility in exchange for sharing insights.

The missing information

After I turned down the interview-based assignment, I learned that the marketing director had unwittingly withheld a piece of information that would have made it more attractive. He told me that he planned to find experts for the writer. That was potentially a big timesaver for the writer.

Of course, just naming experts isn’t enough. For the reasons mentioned above, experts may not want to help a corporate publication. However, if you’re a marketer assigning articles, and you can promise cooperative sources to your outside writers, that’s a big plus. Don’t hide that; feature it!

Of course, there’s other information that writers will seek, including:

  • Your topic, defined as specifically as possible
  • Pay
  • Word count
  • Place of publication
  • Target audience and why they’ll care about your topic
  • Your timeline and editing process

When you provide complete information up front, you’ll get a more realistic price from your writer. Also, the entire writing and editing process will go more smoothly.

The post Describing an interview-based assignment to writers appeared first on Susan Weiner's Blog on Investment Writing.

A modern fable: Where the Product Owner role came from

This story is a fictional account of how the Product Owner / Customer role may have come about. It’s purpose is to illustrate why so many companies have so many problems with this role.  After the fable, the article continues with some examples showing what some companies are doing differently.

Once upon a time there was a team implementing software. They had just been staffed to a new large project which would be released as a series of releases. They met with the Business Analyst to learn the requirements of the first release. They developed a solution, then showed it to the Project Sponsor. The Project Sponsor was not happy. “This is not what I want”, he said. “You will have to redo these 3 parts completely.” And so the team reworked those parts, showed them to the Project Sponsor, and life was good.

The team started the next release, and the same thing happened. The Project Sponsor liked some of what they did, but other parts they had to completely rework.

One day when the Project Sponsor was not happy, the team said in frustration, “If you are not happy with this then come and sit with us and show us just what you want us to do”. The Project Sponsor agreed and sat with the team for a couple of days until the problems were fixed. Everyone was happy.

The team said, “This worked so well, come and sit with us all the time and tell us what to do.” The Project Sponsor said, “I cannot possibly do that, I have another job”. So the team said, “Then send us someone you trust completely to tell us what to do and agree that if our work is acceptable to that person then you will also accept the work.” The Project Sponsor agreed to do that for the next release.

The Project Sponsor sent one of the best of his staff to sit with the team full time for the whole release cycle. This was just as good as having the Project Sponsor sit with the team. When the Project Sponsor saw the finished work, he was happy.

The team said, “This is the way we should always work. There should never be someone between us and the Project Sponsor, though having one of his best people worked out.” And the Project Sponsor thought, “This is not sustainable. I cannot give up my best people forever”, but he said nothing because everything was in fact working for this project and he would worry about how to address the issue later on a different project.

That team was led by someone influential in the software development community, someone who did a lot of writing and speaking at conferences, and so the word spread. Teams with the same frustrations embraced this model and insisted on it with their Project Sponsors. A short term fix born out of frustration and immediate need, that was not grounded in root cause analysis, became a recommended solution for everyone.

Unfortunately, this story did not have a happy ending. When that project was finished and the product released to end users, they rejected it. It did not meet their needs. One thing the Business Analyst had done was work with the end users, so by removing that person from the team, there was no one looking out for the end users. The Project Sponsor and his staff were not in touch with actual end users and their needs. Ultimately this project was a failure that wasted millions of the company money.

This model of the customer sitting full time with the team, that was an impulsive solution to the problem of the team having to do rework due to the Project Sponsor being unhappy with the results, introduced two intractable problems:

  1. It is not sustainable for the business to remove Project Sponsors or members of their staff from their day-to-day work to sit full time with an implementation team to tell them what to do.
  2. It removes the voice of the end users from the project (UX as it exists today is too much about design and not enough about the actual human beings using the product. It is insufficient.)


What is needed is a determination of the root cause of the initial problem and fix that.  Since this is a fable, we can only guess at the root causes. These are some things I have seen in my career that have caused exactly the problems described above:

  • The Project Sponsor changed their mind at some point and did not communicate the new requirements to the Business Analyst.
  • The Business Analyst spent too much time with the end users and did not cross check the information with the Project Sponsor.
  • The Business Analyst was not trained or know how to do the role.
  • The development team ignored what they were told by the Business Analyst.
  • The development team did not review documentation provided by the Business Analyst.

I am seeing a number of different approaches to resolving these issues.

Microsoft recently published some articles about the 5 year Agile journey they have been conducting in their developer division. They have found they need 2 Program Managers for each team of about 10 implementers. (A Program Manager combines the responsibilities of Product Manager, Business Analyst, and Product Owner.) This allows each one to spend half their time on the work they need to do on the business side and half their time with the Agile team.

Menlo Innovations does custom programming. Their customers are other companies.  The customer is not on-site, the users are not on-site. Menlo has High-Tech Anthropology teams who coordinate the work between the customer, end users, and their own XP teams. Each XP team has a pair of Solution Anthropologists working with them.

A lot of projects still have a traditional Business Analyst role. But they understand that they have to train and mentor their Business Analysts. They do not just put any warm body in the role if they want that person to be effective. They typically train their Business Analysts in a broad range of skills, including things such as mediation, negotiation, and effective communication.

I just talked with a Business Analyst today who recently got a top award from her company for effectively negotiating the requirements and release schedule between the business unit that was the customer, the actual end users, and the Agile IT team implementing the solution. This was a very tricky situation, and she was personally credited for making it work to everyone’s advantage.  She is highly trained in not only Business Analysis but also in Sociology and Leadership.

In all three of these examples, the team is not getting input from one person (the customer, the Product Owner). Rather the team is getting input from the customer and many, many users filtered through one or two people who directly interact with the team.

At Microsoft, the Program Managers are responsible for being closely in touch with the market and the end users, and they bring that knowledge with them when they sit with the team. The same is true of the Solution Anthropology teams at Menlo and the well-trained experienced Business Analysts I meet.

We do not have to remove a business SME or Project Sponsor from their full-time jobs to make Agile work. We need to provide trained, experienced people who know how to negotiate the best results for the customer, the users, and the teams who implement the solutions.

Back to Basics: Generate Ideas to Find What You Have to Say

[Ep 226]

With my Back to Basics series, I’m providing tools you can apply to your next project in hopes it will make the writing process easier and the final product stronger than ever—so you can make an impact.

Last time, we started by identifying a project’s high-level elements—its Topic, Audience, Purpose, and Medium. After that, you can focus on the message of your project; that is, given your topic, what is this project’s IDEA.

What do you write about​? Is it running, longevity, RV travel, cooking on a budget, stamp collecting, or social justice?

Maybe you’re known for this topic and it’s your brand identity, or maybe you’ve been assigned this by an editor. Regardless, you start with a topic, but you don’t stop there.

You have to hone in on an idea: a narrowed idea suitable for this particular project and this particular audience. Your finalized idea will reflect the slant or angle you’re taking that will provide focus and set your project apart from others tackling the same topic.

It’s tempting to latch onto the first idea that pops into our heads—and sometimes those are indeed fresh and full of potential. Most of the time, though, if we want to write something that stands out, we’re better off taking time to send the idea through five phases:

  1. Generate
  2. Narrow
  3. Validate
  4. Revise (adapt, adjust)
  5. Confirm or Finalize

1. Generate

First, you’ll generate ideas. You’re about to hear lots of tips for generating ideas in this episode, and I’ll include links to a few other articles and resources. You can test them out and find what works best for you. 

2. Narrow

When you land on some ideas with potential, you’ll narrow them to suit your audience, purpose, and medium. You’ll also find your unique slant.

3. Validate

When it seems your idea has potential, you’ll validate the idea, especially if you’re launching a big project like a book. But even when you’re planning an article or blog post, it’s smart to take a few steps to vet the idea, and I’ll explain that in another episode.

4. Revise

After that process, you’ll adapt it based on the input you receive during the validation phase, revising and adjusting the idea as needed.

5. Confirm or Finalize

The last phase will be to confirm your idea and finalize it so you can dig in and—finally!—write.

A five-phase process just to lock in an idea may sound like overkill and it may seem like it’ll take ages, but you’ll breeze through it—especially for short projects. And it’s definitely worth it for longer projects because they’ll come together more efficiently when you walk through these phases.

Let’s start with what it takes to generate ideas.

Generate Ideas to Find What You Have to Say

When we begin our search for writing ideas, we start with ourselves. What are you drawing from to produce your projects? What’s in you? What do you have to say?

Generate Ideas by Remembering

Our writing usually flows out of the person we are. The ideas we share are ideas inside us, so writing about our past and drawing from memories, we can pull up ideas that formed us, challenged us, confused us.

Using those memories as the centerpiece of a project, we can dive in to explore the meaning, the truth, the lies, and the message locked in our past.

These ideas flow from the richness of remembering.

Generate Ideas by Living

We continue to add to our memories by increasing experiences. So another way to generate ideas is by living.

The stories we tell, if nonfiction, are experiences we’ve had or observed in others—or heard from others. 

And, actually, if we write fiction, the scenes and ideas still flow from what we’ve seen, heard, tasted, smelled…from what we’ve experienced. Even mundane assignments start with our exposure to and understanding of the subject matter.

To generate ideas, we have to live. To live well, we can make choices that take us places, switch things up, change our perspective, widen our lens.

Work on Yourself as a Person

In an interview with Linda Sivertson, Ann Patchett said her advice for writing something great is: “Work on yourself as a person instead of working on yourself as a writer.”1

She talked about a professor of hers, the late Grace Paley, who would load up the students and drive them into Manhattan to take part in a protest, because, Ann said, Grace wanted them to experience life, make a difference, take a stand, and fight for good—she wanted each of them to become the best person they could be.2

Her method was to introduce them to the world so each person would have new material, new ideas, new experiences. From that, presumably, these young writers would have something to say, something to write about.

Ann continued:

 [W]henever anybody says to me, can writing be taught? I say, well sure, I can teach you how to be a better writer. I can teach you how to write better dialogue or the importance of plot or narration or whatever. But I cannot teach you how to have something to say. And that is the heart of it. Do you have something to say?3

Ann Patchett

Ideas that mean something—ideas that change readers—are ideas that mean something to you, that changed you. And one way we can be changed is to step into the world and interact with new people, visit new places, and experience life.

Engage from the Center of Your Heart

But we can take it one notch deeper—one layer more intimate and vulnerable. Ann Patchett continues:

Are you a person who is engaging with the world from the very center of your heart and you’re writing about something because you’re trying to make a difference? That to me is great writing.4

Ann Patchett

Live life from there—generate ideas from there—from the center of your heart, and your words will make a difference and you’ll have something great to say.

Generate Ideas by Noticing

No matter how much we experience, we need to pay attention to what’s happening. We also need to record it somehow. By noticing and documenting life, we’ll have a wealth of ideas to draw from. 

Engage the senses and pay attention to the world around you.

Record what you observe; reflect on its meaning. 

Try not to miss details like the small gesture, the faint scent, the peals of laughter. Note the temperature, fabric, lighting, colors, and space. 

If we intend to draw from that wealth of observation, we will want to preserve it somewhere, documenting what we’ve noticed. 

  • If you save scraps of paper, ticket stubs, and flyers, store them in a box or file folder.
  • If you document digitally, type up thoughts and save those entries in your favorite space, whether that’s OneNote, Evernote, Google Docs, a spreadsheet, or some other system.
  • If you document visually, take photos and store those using a retrievable, searchable filing system with tags or filenames that help you locate your inspiration.

We draw from this raw material of life to generate ideas to use in our writing, and as we create, we find meaning. 

Generate Ideas by Reading

The best way to improve as a writer is to read, but reading is also a great place to find ideas. Just as an op-ed or letter to the editor is written as a response to an editorial in the newspaper, you can write in response to something you read.

  • Blog posts
  • Magazine articles
  • News pieces
  • Books
  • Social media updates

Whatever you read—short or long, online or in print—it can inspire ideas for your own projects. 

Don’t write in that voice or style, and be careful not to plagiarize in any way (give credit for anything you excerpt or summarize). But when you read something, you may realize you want to refute it or build on it, expanding on their ideas. In this way, you can generate your own ideas from what you read.

You can point to the source and creatively enrich the ideas from the original presentation with your own deep understanding of the subject matter. 

Or maybe you’ll pull together five different ideas from five different sources to form one new thought, synthesizing them for your audience.

Or maybe one small idea buried in one chapter of a literary novel inspires a research project for a nonfiction book of your own.

Read and reflect on what you take in, so you can generate more ideas.

Generate Ideas by Journaling

Many people have journaled their entire lives to capture daily life, thoughts, feelings, revelations, and frustrations. Others come and go, abandoning journals after a few entries. Some find simplified methods that suit their lifestyle well, like bullet journals and one-line-a-day journals.

If you think you’re not a journaling type, maybe you need to test out variations to see if you simply haven’t found one that works.

Traditional journals 

Traditional journals typically contain the source materials of day-to-day activities, observations, thoughts, and emotions. If you don’t keep one, this may be the time to begin. 

Consider all the different types:

  • High-end leatherbound
  • Spiral-bound notebooks picked up on sale at the start of a school year
  • Composition books
  • Moleskine 
  • One-Line-a-Day 

Maybe you just haven’t landed on the type of journal that fits the way you think and operate.

Homework for Life

In his TEDx Talk, on his podcast, and at his blog, storyteller Matthew Dicks invites every person, not just writers, to document their “most story-like moment from the day” for what he calls Homework for Life™

He takes five minutes at the end of each day and thinks back: What made this day different from all the rest?5

The idea is so simple. He writes a sentence or two—sometimes just a string of words—and that brings back a memory from the day: the moment he chose to document. Note the small discoveries, the daily surprises, those meaningful moments you don’t want to lose.

He keeps his in a spreadsheet, making it easy to search keywords and find connections and themes from year to year.6

Morning Pages

Julia Cameron urges artists to practice the daily ritual of Morning Pages—writing three handwritten pages first thing in morning.7

This practice can be an idea-generating gold mine, because it taps the mind fresh from dreams, before the world intrudes with its headlines, notifications, and email onslaught.

Writer’s Notebook

Writers often keep notebooks associated with a specific project to keep ideas flowing, sort through stuck spots, and chronicle the creative process. In these notebooks, ideas that don’t fit into the work-in-progress can be stored and accessed later to contribute to the next big undertaking.

Novelists pack their notebooks with lists that include descriptions, timelines, character notes, and snatches of dialogue. Make a list of unfortunate events you can throw at your characters and you’ll have the makings of your next novel’s plot.

Generate Ideas by Brainstorming

Tap your natural curiosity and creativity during the ideation stage to generate, explore, and develop ideas for your writing projects. People use a lot of tools to support the brainstorming process.

Start with a brain dump to spill out every thought out until you think you’ve hit the last possible idea you have ever had. 

After that, continue with other systems and approaches, asking questions like, “What else?” and “What if we tried it another way?”and “What if I didn’t have X tool?” 

Keep tossing out ideas, no matter how ludicrous, and see how your brain dredges up long-lost trivia or memories and makes connections. Checking out the following tools and techniques to support the creative process:

  • Whiteboard
  • Post-Its 
  • Index cards
  • Mind Maps or clusters

Generate Ideas by Making Lists

Whether you’re keeping a journal or meeting an article deadline, lists are quick ways to write during busy seasons. 

List everything you know about a topic, subject, or scene you plan to write—this is kind of like a brain dump. Your list establishes what you already know and reveals what you have yet to find out. Thanks to the list, you can plan your research and fill in the gaps.

List keywords and phrases associated with your idea, because that will guide your initial research, which will reveal even more keywords and phrases you didn’t know existed.

Make a list of the big ideas and subtopics you want to cover in a nonfiction book. This list can help you determine the angle your project will take and later, you can convert this list into a working Table of Contents.

Generate Ideas with a Rough Outline

Speaking of a Table of Contents, rough outlines—and a working TOC is basically a rough outline—can emerge from a list, mindmap, or cluster. This rough outline—along with the lists and notes you’ve taken so far—helps you spot information gaps that need research and development for your project to be complete.

You can use the classic Roman numeral I, II, II, A, B, C, 1, 2, 3, i, ii, iii approach to organizing your outline. But if we’re talking about fought outlines, feel free to just number things and keep it simple.

It’s nice to have a way to show levels and subheading ideas when you’re tackling lengthier projects, but go ahead and create it in a way that makes sense to your brain.

Generate Ideas by Composing Headlines and Titles

Generate article headlines or chapter titles you’d love to tackle someday and you’ve got an idea bank to draw from when you’re ready for something new. When you have time minutes free, add to the list. And you can use templates to speed things along.


Books often have a title and subtitle, and when I’m working on a book, I like to make a long list of titles and subtitles, then I mix and match, combining a title with a subtitle to emphasize an audience or big idea in a book. 

For example, let’s say I was writing about technology, and I generate title ideas, like:

  • Switch
  • Flip the Switch
  • Power Out
  • Power Off
  • Power Down
  • The Power of Powering Down
  • The Up Side to Powering Down

My brain would get going, and then I’d start thinking of subtitles:

  • Empower Yourself by Powering Down
  • Live Your Best Life with Less Tech
  • Reconnect with Family in an Always-On World
  • Disconnect from Technology to Reconnect with Family

You can see that some emphasize “living your best life” and others emphasize “family.” Depending on my focus, I can mix and match to find a combination that I like:

The Power of Powering Down: Live Your Best Life with Less Tech, or

The Up Side to Powering Down: Disconnect with Tech to Reconnect with Family


Pay attention to headlines that grab your attention—when you feel your finger hovering to click through, take note of the title and convert it into a template to use for your next headline.

Even the click-bait-y headlines can get you thinking up ideas:

  • How to ______________  in X Days/Minutes/Hours  ____________
    How to Generate an Endless List of Article Ideas in Ten Minutes a Day
  • X Ways to _________________
    7 Ways to Disconnect Your Kids (and yourself) from Technology
  • X Tips for ___________________ the Easy Way
    3 Tips for Growing Tomatoes the Easy Way, or
    9 Tips for Building Upper Body Strength with Nothing but Resistance Bands
  • _______________ or _______________ : [Question]
    Stencil or Canva: Which Design App Do We Recommend? or
    Adidas or Brooks: Which Shoe Is Best for Flat-Footed Runners?

Generate Ideas by Writing

Still not sure what you have to say (or want to say)? Still struggling to unearth what lies beneath?

Writing can be the way in.

Sometimes we start with nothing but a moment, a memory snippet, and from that we can freewrite, using writing itself as a way to unearth what we want to say.

“I read, listen, and write my way to discovery,”8 writes Charity Singleton Craig in her book The Art of the Essay. I know Charity personally, and I can verify she exhibits the trait of a curious creative, following an idea, statement, or detail to see where it leads.

Quote from Charity Singleton Craig: I read, listen, and write my way to discovery.

In a 2018 interview right here on this podcast, Patrice Gopo, said when we’re trying to understand what’s happening in our lives or in the world—when we delve deeply into an incident to see its significance and why it matters—that’s meaning-making on the page.9

Write without knowing where a thought is leading you or what theme is emerging. You don’t have to know where you’re going, but you have to be willing to go wherever the path on the page leads.

That’s the discovery process. That’s how we tease out ideas for our writing.

Patrice says, “You’re going to discover something new about yourself or new about the world or just new about the situation you’re in, whatever it may be.”10

Charity writes:

Often, our thoughts, opinions, and emotions are hidden when we begin. They surface as we write, our minds themselves serving as the subject of our inquiry. We investigate, ripple outward.11

Charity Singleton Craig

I can set out with good intentions and a logical plan for my writing projects, but the curious creative in me often strays from the original outline to dive deeper and unearth more than I realized was available when I initially formed my plan.

That’s part of the mess of writing—and it’s part of the fun of generating ideas.

Call it discovery or inquiry or curiosity, I’m grateful for this writing process that invariably leads to greater insight, understanding, and meaning. That’s so important—now, more than ever.

Generate Ideas with Research

To give you a sneak preview to the next episode on how to narrow and validate ideas, let’s end with how research can help generate ideas.

When we dive deep into a topic, we turn up information—some of it relevant, some of it not. But in the search, the information that wasn’t so relevant may end up being gold for another topic.

To research the book Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand ordered vintage newspapers from the 1930s, and she explains that as she read about the horse, she “happened to turn the paper over and find a profile of a young running phenomenon named Louie Zamperini. I started reading,” she said. “Louie had not yet gone to war, but his story was already so interesting that I jotted his name down in my Seabiscuit research notebook.”12

Research for one project generated an idea for another. With the turn of a page, she landed on her next project: Unbroken


Try these ideas and you’ll end up with pages and pages of ideas to scroll through. Maybe you’ll store them in a bullet journal; maybe they be lined up in Evernote or Google Keep. 

Now you can pick one with promise. Read through the list and pay attention to one that catches your eye and holds your attention.

Which idea would you enjoy living with for a stretch or time?

Does one of these ideas make sense given the brand you’re building—do you want to be known for this kind of thing?

That’s the one.

Now you’re ready to narrow and validate.



  1. Sivertson, Linda. “Sue Monk Kidd & Ann Patchett on the Beautiful Writers Podcast: Longings-In Writing & Life.” Book Mama, Linda Sivertson, 6 June 2020,, 54:39
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Dicks, Matthew. “Homework for Life | Matthew Dicks | TEDxBerkshires.” YouTube, TEDx Talks, 8 Dec. 2015,
  6. Ibid.
  7. Cameron, Julia. “Morning Pages.” Julia Cameron Live,
  8. Craig, Charity Singleton. The Art of the Essay: from Ordinary Life to Extraordinary Words: Includes Activities for Personal Journals, Classrooms, and Writing Groups!, by Charity Singleton Craig, T.S. Poetry Press, 2019, p. 26.
  9. Kroeker, Ann, and Patrice Gopo. “Ep 173: [Interview] Patrice Gopo on Meaning Making on the Page and Studying the Craft.” Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach, 28 Feb. 2019,
  10. Ibid.
  11. Craig, Charity Singleton. The Art of the Essay: from Ordinary Life to Extraordinary Words: Includes Activities for Personal Journals, Classrooms, and Writing Groups!, by Charity Singleton Craig, T.S. Poetry Press, 2019, p. 26.
  12. Hillenbrand, Laura. “Unbroken (Movie Tie-in Edition) by Laura Hillenbrand – Reading Guide – Books.”, Random House Group,

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The Perfection Intervention 24-Hour Book Challenge

It is 4:40pm and I’m stuck in bed with a strained ankle. I had a total of 5 hours of sleep last night, so maybe that has something to do with the crazy notion I’m having. This article will be different from any article I’ve ever written. I’m live blogging my attempt to pull together […]

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Have an Amazing Flag Day!

In the United States, June 14—or Flag Day—commemorates the adoption of the flag of the United States on June 14, 1777 by resolution of the Second Continental Congress.

Well, I’m not in the US, but I am very proud to hold my own Virtual Flag Day

(Photo: LOGAN CYRUS/AFP/Getty Images)

If you have ever waved one of these,
Take Pride!