First thought best thought

Allen Ginsburg used the phrase “First thought, best thought,” to describe the process of spontaneous and fearless writing. I find that I sometimes apply this in my own work in unexpected ways.

Creating something that ends up being new and interesting often starts by throwing myself a challenge, some added constraint to an otherwise predictable task. Intuitively you might think that the added constraint would make the task more difficult.

But it often turns out that adding another constraint serves as a catalyst, the grain of sand in the oyster that forces the pearl to form. Suddenly, when things are no longer rote and familiar, I need to think on my feet, to improvise, and now I am paying attention.

I think it’s really this part about paying attention, about staying awake and alert to whatever might happen next, which is the true catalyst. And anything that encourages that sort of out-of-the-box thinking is good.

This is not to say that coming up with some new direction is sufficient. For me at least, it is far from sufficient.

What really matters is what I do with that grain of sand in the oyster. A lot depends on the hard work of follow-through, of going from the odd inspiration to an eventual result that is well thought out, worked through, properly designed.

But heading off into some unexpected new direction, making sure I’m doing something I’ve never quite done before, helps make that process a lot more fun and interesting. It forces me to look at the design process with fresh eyes. And then the good stuff can happen.

Well, anyway, that’s my first thought. 🙂

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