People read a lot more than they write; it takes far longer to write something than to read it. But paradoxically, much that is written never gets read again! The distribution of human readership attention is sharply peaked. A few best-selling books, major newspapers, and mass-market magazines attract audiences in the millions; technical or literary works from university presses sell perhaps thousands of copies (most of which go on to gather dust on library shelves); while the vast majority of manuscripts, diary entries, scribbled class notes, and so forth are scarcely glanced at after their creation.

The problem is that it's impossible to tell in advance what's important. That doesn't mean that we should write less --- rather, the opposite! A brilliant idea flashes across the mind like a meteor across the sky; its trail fades quickly unless recorded. Dozens of pages may have to be typed before the right metaphor surfaces. The trick, then, is to net the good fish and throw the minnows back into the ocean ... so they can swim away, grow fat, and be worth catching later ... or if not, serve as food for worthier creatures.

Write, write, write, throughout the day; then look back and transcribe a fraction (alas, most of the time for most of us a tiny fraction) into a journal or other archival storage; and finally focus on the gems from that enhanced ore for further cleaning and polishing. It's like isotope separation: careful and meticulous, with a huge energy expenditure before the concentration of product is high enough to serve. There's a whole physical theory of "separative work units", the basis of uranium gaseous diffusion plant design. Can it apply to idea-enrichment too? What other tactics promote better creative thought? And given an inspiration, how to help it grow from conception to maturity, from tiniest spark to bonfire?

Thursday, November 25, 1999 at 21:05:04 (EST) = 1999-11-25


(correlates: ExempliGratia, PleasantSurprises, MetaForestry, ...)