Death by a Thousand Ideas
This year, I’m trying something new: every week I’m writing and shipping a new poem.
Doesn’t matter how good it is, how long it is, or how much time I’ve spent on it — whatever I have, I post.
This is a pretty far cry from the approach I’m used to. For years, I’ve been free-writing every day (save for a few periods of missing), but remaining protected by the knowledge that 90% of what I write isn’t interesting or “good” enough to merit being nurtured to the point of finished product – and so I’ll never have to get it to a point where I’m willing to say, “yup, that’s a poem. And yup, I wrote it.”
I’m pretty early into this new experiment, but this week while writing, I found myself getting kind of… angry.
Actually, to be real, I was getting really angry.
I hated what I was writing. I was deeply frustrated to look back at this language I was producing but seeing that what I was writing didn’t sound as profound or as musical as the great poets I seek to honor and emulate.
This isn’t usually a problem, because if I every write something I know I’m not jazzed about while it’s coming out of my fingers, I know it’s never going to reach the light of day – and that I’ll just take a shot at making something good tomorrow. But in this case, the knowledge that one way or another, I was going to have to find a way to call this tripe I was producing a finished poem… it sucked.
Brief digression: I recently found inspiration in an unconventional opinion – or what she terms a spiky POV – Wes Kao shared. Wes claims that the wildly popular book and methodology Start With Why created by Simon Sinek has done more harm than good. In her view, encouraging entrepreneurs and solopreneurs to Start With Why when building something new has encouraged lots of pontificating and navel-gazing at the expense of time that would probably be better spent building new stuff.
I think my resistance to shipping this last poem is indicative of a similar problem that we often face when trying to enact creative thinking.
When we stay in the realm of ideation, we don’t have to confront the emotional experience of finishing our creations and letting them interact with the world as finished work – in essence, owning our creation of new stuff. Brainstorming is fun, but for a lot of us, it’s only able to be fun because we give ourselves the assurance that our ideas will never have to see the light of day.
But when we do this, the value we provide and receive by creating new stuff gets severely cauterized – both because we rob ourselves of the practice of coming up with and executing a new idea, and because nobody else gets to interact with and be impacted by the dang thing we’re making.
I don’t want to beat this point to death, but TL;DR: please don’t let yourself succumb to death by a thousand ideas.
Recognize that the practice of creative change is more important than any singular change will ever be.
Commit to cutting your brainstorming short after a certain amount of blue-sky thinking.
And push the thing out of the door.