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Mine for gold

There's creativity in them there hills.

I took a stand-up comedy course back in the day.

One of the things I was taught there was an indispensable technique for joke-writing called 'Mining for Gold'. A tool as handy for a comic as having a silver tongue. So your jokes don't sound like they came from the Bronze Age.

Anyway, my stand-up career was extremely short-lived. But the Mining for Gold technique stayed with me, as it can be equally applied to any creative thinking process.

You start by taking a subject - let's say swimming - and you list out 10 things you associate with that topic.

These could be:

  1. Swimming costumes

  2. Goggles

  3. Getting wet

  4. Changing rooms

  5. Different strokes

  6. Armbands

  7. Olympic swimmers

  8. Half naked people

  9. Outdoor swimming

  10. Towels

Then you pick one item from your list and write 10 things about that. Things you associate with it. Anything you like or dislike. Whatever pops into your head in relation to it.

Let's choose no. 4 - changing rooms:

  1. No privacy

  2. Lockers

  3. Wet towels

  4. People invading your space

  5. Hairdryers

  6. Showers

  7. Slippery floors

  8. Will I get a verruca?

  9. Cleaning smells

  10. Keeping your socks dry

Then we go again, taking one of those items - showers, for example - and mine a bit deeper:

  1. Too hot

  2. Too cold

  3. Not enough pressure

  4. Open showers

  5. Filthy cubicles

  6. Temperature controls

  7. People pissing in showers

  8. No shower gel

  9. Queuing for showers

  10. Hair in the plughole

Okay, this mining is getting increasingly icky - but you get the picture.

You can keep going as long as you like - mining and drilling into ever smaller and more specific areas.

For comedy writing it's great because you start to extract the 'not so obvious' observations about the original subject - swimming - which is one of the hallmarks of stand-up.

Mining for gold helps you create jokes with a setup that takes us down one path, but pays off in an unexpected direction - hopefully releasing a laugh.

I had a piss in the swimming pool the other day. The lifeguard shouted at me so loudly that I nearly fell in.

One from the old jokes home. But you can see how mining the subject can dig up all the elements you need to get to a joke like this.

But the process is just as good for any creative thought process where you need to extract the constituents of something, so you can really drill down to the insights.

Some examples:

  • You could be trying to visualise themes in the design of a poster about saving energy, let's say. What does the word 'energy' make you think of? Electricity? Running on the spot? Triple espressos? Find 10 things, then drill down further into one of them.

  • Or you've got a brand or product which needs a new ad campaign. What are the top 10 things you think about baked beans, let's say? Buttered toast? University mealtimes? Farting? Pick one. Then drill into it.

List, choose, repeat. Focus and hone, and eventually you'll dig up a nugget which could lead to an idea that's worth its weight in gold.

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