Building model airports was my favorite childhood hobby. I had a collection of plastic airplanes and used a pencil and paper to draw the gates and runways.
Each airport began with the control tower because everything in an airport revolves around it. But rather than modeling an actual control tower, I represented it with a shiny dime. Once I placed it on the floor, the entire airport came to life. Although I always started with a general vision for what I wanted my airports to look like before I started building, that vision always changed once the construction began.
Now that I’m a writer, I start every article with the metaphor of a shiny dime. Like the control tower, it’s the centerpiece of my articles. It represents a tiny but detailed idea that’s easy to visualize. Psychologically, shiny dimes are a coping mechanism for writers who try to explain their entire worldview in a single article. They’ll talk about every company they’ve ever worked for, every book they’ve ever read, and every experience they’ve ever had until they end up with gigantic topics like “Everything You Need to Know About the Stock Market” or “Artificial Intelligence in the Digital Age.” Though it’s tempting to write a magnum opus, the lack of constraints causes the article to spiral out of control.
This instinct to write about enormous topics is rooted in anxiety. Almost every writer is pressed for time and feels like they haven’t written enough. They feel like every article needs to be comprehensive because their friends and co-workers will judge them otherwise. But writing is like fitness. Consistency breeds success. Showing up every day, even in small doses, will lead to more progress than scattered, all-day workouts ever will.
Like fitness, you won’t write if you’re overwhelmed by the size of your topic. A shiny dime is the smallest viable idea you can write about. As a rule, yours isn’t small enough until you can summarize it with a one-liner. For example, my article about “The New American Dream” orbited around a quote from Tyler Tringas: “The New American Dream is to build a profitable, sustainable, remote software business that can be run from anywhere, scales nicely, and prints money.” I found freedom in the constraints of that shiny dime. Instead of pursuing an expansive topic like “entrepreneurship in the 21st century,” I rejected every idea that didn’t relate to the quote.
Writing unlocks a kingdom of epiphanies you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. Paul Graham once said: “Expect 80% of the ideas in an essay to happen after you start writing it.” Every topic is bigger than it seems at first. So instead of writing panoramic thought pieces, focus only on your shiny dime.
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