Having Ideas Can Be a Real Problem

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I really liked this post from Jessica Abel: idea debt.

Idea Debt is when you spend too much time picturing what a project is going to be like, too much time thinking about how awesome it will be to have this thing done and in the world, too much time imagining how cool you will look, how in demand you’ll be, how much money you’ll make. And way too little time actually making the thing…

I’ve seen so many students struggle for years with Idea Debt. Carrying that debt crippled them. They were beholden to their 12-year-old selves, who had imagined their grown-up future selves as famous manga authors with 40-volume series under their belts. But they did not have the tools yet to actually make the work happen. And so they invested more and more into this grand idea, making it less and less likely that they’d ever be able to pay it off.

They had binders of lore.

If you recognize yourself, you are definitely not alone. There’s nothing crazy about having Idea Debt. It’s the most natural thing to result when you have big creative ideas, but no real plan for actually working towards making them happen.

Even if you’re extremely productive, you can have Idea Debt. There are only so many hours in a week, and you have to make choices. But all of those undone things weigh us down, make it impossible to think clearly about what we should devote our time and energy to now.

Her advice, for when you become conscious of carrying around large quantities of idea debt, is to clear out your mental attic. Focus on the making rather than the planning to make.

The post on idea debt is part of a series on creativity and time management: her next post points out how little time most of us really have for artistic work, and, therefore, the importance of focusing on a few select and worthwhile projects — or maybe just one:

Imagine you figure out your schedule, and realize you have maybe eight hours a week for creative work outside your day job, if you’re careful. You have eight projects. So you put in one hour on each. Seems logical, right? But really: How deep are you gonna get? How far are you gonna be able to move that needle?

Now, imagine you spend eight hours over the course of a week on one project. You might get a whole chapter drafted in eight hours. Stranger things have happened. And if you’re spending chunks of time all week on the same thing, your brain is going to be working overtime on it. When you’re in the shower: brainstorm. When you’re in the car: things are clicking together. Have your notebook or voice notes app handy. You will have ideas. I guarantee it.

And if you follow this pattern for—depending on the project—between a month and a year or so: the thing is done. Actually done. You did it. Good lord. Imagine the party you’d throw to celebrate that.

Read both posts!

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