The mistake is this: ‘having an awesome idea and letting it rot in your head for months, even years, until it perishes completely.’
Has that ever happened to you?
Well, it has to me. I’ve had tons of ideas over the years and sadly let many of them R.I.P.
I’ll call it Idea-Idleness—a period of inactivity in the creative process that, if left unchallenged for too long, will kill off your awesome ideas.
In other words, the longer you wait to act on an idea, the more likely it becomes that you’ll never use that idea.
Now, I know what you’re thinking.
But for the Creator Who Isn’t Creating, waiting for better circumstances or more resources to act on an idea is nothing more than an excuse to avoid either hard work or exposure.
It’s great to write down your ideas and let them harvest on their own for awhile, but only if you’re working on some other idea in the meantime. If you catch yourself with a notebook full of awesome dreams, but you’re not acting on any of them in the present, then you’re engaging in Idea-Idleness.
Here’s usually how an awesome idea dies.
At sunset you’re driving on the winding back roads. The quiet humming of your engine gets interrupted with an idea for a novel that unpacks in your head.
(Or it could be an idea for a blog theme, a song, a painting, a short film.)
For the sake of clarity, let’s use a novel.
The details of your creative vision are a little fuzzy, but the major points are clear—you’re flushed with ideas for the plot, the hero, the climax.
You get home and immediately fill your notebook with these thoughts. You enjoy the ecstasy of etching with words the details of your racing mind. You’re excited over the thought of how epic this thing can be. Just wait until the world sees this…
You close the notebook, satisfied and relieved. This can be such an awesome story. You wonder why the publishing Gods haven’t discovered your obvious genius.
Days go by, then weeks, months. You never write a single word of the novel. Still, you consider yourself a creative, a born writer, an idea-generating giant. You relish the idea of being a writer, of imagining yourself writing a novel.
But you never actually write one.
Congratulations, you’ve achieved nothing. (Don’t worry; I’ve been there.)
This is not just some random story I made up to communicate a point. Well, it is—but it’s more serious than that.
This form of, err, creative-escapism, happens to artists across all fields. Many of us have been there—getting ideas for projects, wanting so badly to realize them, but for some reason never bringing them to life. We enjoy exercising our imagination and drifting off into fantasy, but that’s about as far as we go.
Probably because we’re scared.
Hammering out ideas can be terrifying—we don’t want them to flop and expose our incompetence; so we let em’ decay at the back of our brains.
There are aspiring artists who live their whole lives without ever disciplining themselves enough to do the work they were meant to do. Sad, isn’t it?
Don’t make that fatal mistake. Never be satisfied with having an idea—that means nothing.
Everybody has ideas.
Instead, focus on execution and process. Your ideas will come and go; some will be brilliant, others dull—it matters only how diligently and truthfully you use them.
As the psychoanalyst Rollo May writes in his little book The Courage to Create,
“We cannot will to have insights. We cannot will creativity. But we can will to give ourselves to the encounter with intensity of dedication and commitment.”
It’s the ‘encounter’ that matters most to your success as a creative. Talent is nothing without the willpower to engage deeply and consistently with the task at hand. Actually, willpower alone can, and often will, outshine raw talent.
So, are you hammering out your ideas? Or are you letting Idea-Idleness hijack your creative destiny?
Image by Jinx!