Rummage around in a drawer and I’ll bet you’ll find a Moleskine notebook half-filled with promises and commitments, maybe to your creative self, to your wellbeing, to your business…
And you know how these things start. Like one of those cars that tightens a spring as you pull it back, you’re full of nervous anticipation, excited to get going. Then after a while, inevitably the car loses momentum. And if you’re anything like me, you see another shiny looking car and think “this one’ll go further!”
And so it goes.
Only a couple of months ago I’d started work on a new podcast project. It was exactly the sort of thing I wanted to focus on, for exactly the audience I wanted to work with. I’d even recorded some conversations – conversations I’m really happy with, and feel guilty I haven’t found a proper place for yet.
But I’ve been grinding for a few years, and I’m ready to see what might happen if I just stopped, or at least slowed down, enough to figure out what I truly want to do for the next chapter of my life.
Which is a very grand way of saying this lovely idea has now taken root in a drawer.
In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about ideas wanting to dance with us, and if we’re not ready or willing to dance with them, they’ll go off and find another partner. I love Big Magic, but I prefer to think of it another way.
Terry Pratchett, the creator of the Discworld, wrote about inspiration particles and described them thusly:
Inspiration particles sleet through the Universe, each heralding a moment of brilliance: a new symphony, a way of getting from A to B quicker than before, lines for a new play, or deeper understanding of something than was previously comprehended.
Most of them are doomed to miss, or to reveal their brilliance to a brick wall or a starling, which is totally unequipped to deal with the revelation.
Some however, hit the right mind at the right time, and a little later you are blinking foolishly in the TV lights and wondering how the hell you thought of sliced bread in the first place...
I mean, come on. Enormously wide-brimmed hats off to the man.
So if you’re feeling guilty about the drawer full of unfinished projects, I’d like to invite you to think about it this way:
You’re not someone who starts things but doesn’t finish them – that’s not what’s happening here. Like Leonard of Quirm in the Discworld universe, you’re beset by inspiration. Ideas come at you quicker than you can satisfy them – there’s barely time to iterate on one idea before the next comes knocking, demanding your attention.
Your crime isn’t that you don’t finish projects. Maybe it’s simply that you don’t know how to say “no” (or at least “not right now”) to the ideas that present themselves.
It’s easy to worry we might miss out on a great new idea that’ll blow the doors off everything. But how many great ideas have struck you in the shower, while exercising or gardening, or just sitting on the sofa? If you’re particularly receptive to these motes of inspiration, what are the chances they suddenly stop floating in your direction?
That’s why I prefer Pratchett’s view of inspiration to Gilbert’s. I don’t believes ideas are sentient fairies that’ll bugger off and tell their friends not to come calling again. I believe the receptivity is within us, which also means it’s our responsibility to manage.
But if I were to give ideas a little bit of sentience, I’d say that they just want to be given a moment to be heard. And that’s what the notebook in your drawer is for.
It’s not a catalogue of failures to launch, but a celebration of your ability to photosynthesise a drop of inspiration and turn it into something living.
So if you have a great idea, why not share it? If you’re genuinely worried that someone might steel it, remember it was never yours to begin with. We don’t own ideas – we only own execution. And if you’re not really going to execute on it, why not give someone else the opportunity?
I don’t mean yo have to run out and tell lots of people. But you might find that posting it on your blog gives it just enough recognition that it stops living rent-free in your brain. And if the idea still keeps niggling at you week after week, knocking on the door of your consciousness, then it might be time to ask it to come in.
What ideas are lurking in your drawer that you’d love to do something with, or that maybe you started but couldn’t finish? What are the ones you regret not being able to give more time to? The ones you’re certain you’ll come back to? (They’re not dead, they’re just resting.) I’d love to see them.
Hat tip to Carlos Saba for the subject line.