I realized ages ago that I come up with the bulk of my creative ideas while working on other material. Not as much sitting and staring out the window (though that happens) and not as much while reading or seeing or hearing something (though that happens more), but far and away, the bulk of my new ideas come when I’m working on other ideas.
There I’ll be, working on a script or a short story or whatever, and sure as the sun rises, I’ll be hit with an idea–or multiples–for other stories/characters/settings/whatever. I’ve mentioned in the past how I’m a bit crow-like in being attracted to the sparkle of those new ideas; how they almost inevitably appeal more than whatever I’m working on at the time. And how often, unfortunately, that has previously led to me abandoning the project I was working on in favour of a new idea, thinking that if I’m not as into the current project as I am into the new one, surely that means I wouldn’t be giving the current one my very best effort.
But then as I’m working on that newer idea, I would get hit with yet another new one.
Rinse and repeat.
This of course led to years of leaving half-finished projects in my wake, which didn’t do anyone any good.
I’ve since committed myself to finishing what I start instead of getting lulled away by newer, more attractive ideas instead. You can’t sell half a story or half a script. And you can’t edit and rehash and improve on something that isn’t yet finished. Thus, finishing what you start is paramount for someone looking to make a living in any creative field (or really any field, I guess… you wouldn’t last long in sales if you kept hanging up mid-pitch with one prospective client because you wanted to move onto another one instead).
Interestingly, as I’ve been making myself stay focused on the work at hand, I’ve noticed that the sparkle of those new ideas is quickly lost. It’s as if a new idea only shines bright in order to pull me away from the task at hand, and then when it fails to do that, it dims and becomes far less distracting. It isn’t that the idea isn’t worthy of attention any more–I make note of it and carry on with the current WIP–but the moment of initial urge to work on it right now, the white-hot flash of inspiration and drive to do that immediately fades away. All the better, of course.
And I’ve also been striving to do more work. More writing, more active work getting through (rather than just noodling on) tabletop game ideas… more output of material.
It’s much better this way. Not only does that mean more of the unique feeling of accomplishment when I’ve finished a creative project (a feeling I’ll never get tired of), it also means more for me to shop around. And, given my decades of first-hand experience, I know that doing more creative work also means more ideas for more creative work.
I read this article yesterday about creativity that underscores all of that, pointing out (in the numbered section 1) that some of the most highly regarded creative and scientific minds in history had creative inspiration from, and were big proponents of, working a lot in their fields.
To paraphrase that section, Stephen King chalks up his success simply to writing 3000 words a day. The Beatles played thousands of hours of music in front of audiences before they broke out as a hit. Mark Twain published almost eighty books in fifty years. Picasso is estimated to have made over 50,000 pieces of art in his lifetime…
The best and brightest artists of all stripes–arguably even the best scientific minds–tend to become so thanks in no small part to how much work they do. They of course get better with practice in their field (as we all do at anything); they produce more of that better work because of the amount of time and effort they’re putting into it; and just like I experience, they find flashes of inspiration/creativity as they do so, which leads to wanting to do more work.
One of my staple New Year’s Resolutions for some time has been to produce more creative work. But even before the end of the year rolls around, I’m making a promise to myself now that I’ll be pushing even harder from now on to get more done.
More finished projects, and more creativity from working on them.
Bring it on.