How I Come Up with the Theme for Each Month

Oh look! The theme for next month has arrived.

Today is August 24, which means there are seven days until September 1. It’s around this time each month that I start to feel a flutter of anticipation. What will next month bring?

The truth is, I rarely know. This is not like me: My comfort zone is the land where people are organized and make lists. But living like Prince means living outside your comfort zone, and Prince was an expert at deploying the element of surprise. I have a hard time imagining Prince methodically working down a to-do list each day, although I don’t have any hard evidence that proves he didn’t. What is certain is that he understood the fickle nature of inspiration. When an idea for a song struck, he worked as hard as he could until he had the song completed. That was why he had every inch of Paisley Park wired for sound. He ensured that he could capture every idea that struck like lightning in a bottle — whether he was in the kitchen making popcorn or in a conference room discussing business or in a bathroom … taking a bath?

At the outset of the project, I made an effort to map out the year. While I’m not a great planner, I am organized, and the thought of having the year laid out appealed to me. As it turned out, I didn’t manage to plan the entire year, but I had a pretty good idea of where I was going with the first four or six months.

But then, in the middle of the snowiest February in Minnesota history, when I was taking my wardrobe cues from Prince and dressing up every day — even for my Target runs — I got rerouted. Put in a different way: Inspiration struck, and the idea wasn’t what I’d planned for March. I struggled with dropping my planned theme for March, but my excitement and curiosity about exploring the phenomenon of synesthesia — the way Prince saw color when he heard sounds — won me over, and I dropped my original plan like a hot potato. March turned out great! And it was meant to be because when I was in a watercolor class exploring synesthesia, I wound up drawing the symbol that I adopted as my name in April.

As the year has progressed, inspiration has come in many ways. It’s come in the form of a friend saying, “Hey, you should change your name to a symbol” or “I took a weekend trip without my cell phone and it was amazing; you should try it.” Or it’s popped into my mind. Either way, I don’t force an idea from the left side of my brain. I wait for something to come to me and when it does, I trust the flutter in my stomach that tells me: a) I’m both terrified and excited at the prospect; and b) the idea wasn’t generated by my brain.

I’ve learned to trust. And I’ve never been left without an idea when a new month rolls around. Usually, the idea comes to me with such urgency and clarity that it feels less like, “oh that’s an interesting thought” and more like, “here’s the idea that’s going to make next month AMAZING.” There’s a flutter in my stomach and tears flood my eyes, and I know exactly what I’m doing with my life in the next month.

Once the idea is set, I allow my planning brain to step in. I research the idea — because yes, there is science behind Prince — and often, I buy a book on the topic, whether that’s “Well Played” by play expert Meredith Sinclair, “The Secret Lives of Color” by Kassia St. Clair or “The Alter Ego Effect” by Todd Herman that becomes my reference guide for the month. From there, I generate a list of ideas for blog posts, and off I go!

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