How to avoid idea overwhelm (+ rock out your creativity)
I had my notebook with a pink pen hovering over it's surface. The page was already covered in my scrawling, messy notes. I had been trying to write fast, to keep up with all the ideas that were pouring out of me. I looked at my phone. It was late. I hadn’t been able to sleep with so many ideas rolling around in my brain, so I’d gotten up, gotten a cup of hot lemon water and decided to hash out my ideas.
I looked down at all the scribbles, at all of the things I wanted to do and accomplish. My mind was thrumming with excitement about all the possibilities.
I was experiencing an overflow of creativity. And it was exciting. My notebook, like a pool trying to capture a heavy rain, was full. As I looked down at it, blinking + blurry eyed, I suddenly became very overwhelmed. When was I going to do all of this stuff? What idea should I start with? How do I even begin to put any of this into action?
Have you ever had a beautiful, messy creative fury where you were swamped with ideas and then left in a "what to do next" paralysis?
If so, you are not alone and I’m about to share with you some strategies for dealing with it!
The urge to create
I believe that the urges that we have to create have a purpose. Creative ideas, when they come to us in a flash flood like this, have a very specific reasons for coming to us. They are an outpouring of our creative energy and even though we can't possibly commit to all of them, sometimes they have to come at us in torrents just to get us to pay attention.
A huge rush of ideas is a sign that there is some form of creative expression wanting to come through you. We get overwhelmed and stuck when:
- We can’t burn away the fluff to distill the single thread of an idea, the burning core of the idea, the expression that is most badly wanting to come through us.
- We are unaware that there is a co-creator in the process of channeling that creative expression and we have to be willing to share the responsibility of our creative work with them.
- We fear that if we pick one idea and go with it, the others will dry up and inspiration will fade.
Distill the core, burning idea
Discovering which idea is at the core of what you are being invited to create, is a process of learning to listen deeply. In my own creative practice, I find that sometimes it can be really difficult to listen deeply, especially when the voice of the inner judge is really loud.
When I work at it over time, it becomes easier. And there are a couple of other strategies that really help too!
Here are three strategies that can help you discover your core, burning idea:
Listening deeply requires that you invite your mind to become quiet. You can use your breath to do this. A few deep breaths with your eyes closed can do wonders in helping you to quiet down the chatter. Then into that quiet space, drop in the intention to distill what idea is burning to come forward. Then sit in that quiet place and see which ideas arise. Which ones have the most energy around them? Which ones give you that pulse pumping, palms sweaty feeling?
Watch for signs.
What idea keeps coming up again and again? Which ideas do you reference in your mind when you are out and about? Do you notice pictures, words or something in nature that remind you of a particular idea? Your best ideas will be trying to jump out at you in the landscape of your every day life, in subtle or not so subtle ways.
Just pick an idea and go with it.
Perhaps you still aren’t sure which idea to go after. That’s ok. My advice is to just pick something, anything and get started. Even if you are not totally sure about it, pick one thing and get going with it! Most likely, you will automatically pick the core idea anyway!
Be willing to be a co-creator
To me, the coolest part about the creative process is when you come to the realization that you don’t have to do it all alone, especially when you are faced with so many ideas and directions and you don't know which one to choose.
Although it sometimes appears to be, the creative process is not a solo exhibition. There is you, elbows deep in the work, but then there is also something else at work. Remember that urge to create you felt, that love note from your creative energy?
I don’t believe that your creative energy is going to drop an idea (or many) at your feet and leave you high and dry. She’s got your back and will continue to press you along. When you get stuck (which you will, because that a part of this whole beautiful process), go inward, ask your creative energy what it would like you to do to move forward. And again, listen deeply for an answer.
When you choose a creative idea and roll with it, it’s not going to be up to just you.
Share the responsibility of your creative work
Author Elizabeth Gilbert discusses the idea of sharing the responsibility of our creative work with something greater than ourselves as a way to take some of the pressure off us as creators and to see our creations as offerings. In her TED Talk, she speaks about how the “human at the center of the universe” mindset that creativity comes completely from the self puts too much responsibility on the creative person. As she puts it, it’s like “asking someone to swallow the sun.” She believes that it is this kind of pressure that kills the artist. I agree and I would also add that it scares off the would-be creative too.
In her talk, Gilbert also suggests thinking of the creative process more like the ancient Greeks and Romans, who believed that creativity came from a divine source. She noted that Romans used the term Genius to mean a person’s magical, divine entity or muse. Gilbert says that this idea that the creative process is not entirely our own is incredibly liberating for her. She believes that if she shows up to write, she is doing her part of the creative process. She says
“If the genius, or muse or divine entity shows up to aid us, great...if not, it’s not our fault. We show up. We do our part.”
What is interesting to me is that when you apply the Tantric understanding that everything we do is an expression of the divine, that the divine is in fact within everything all the time (Wallis), this concept of co-creating takes on even deeper meaning:
- It means you are co-creating with something that is always present and much bigger than the container called “you.”
- It means that you no longer have to feel like a lone artist who will either succeed or fail in your efforts. By acknowledging a co-creator, you are relinquishing some of the responsibility of creating.
- It means that, like Gilbert, you can show up and do your part and stop worrying so much about the outcome.
You can relax and enjoy the process of creating with your creative energy, and she, in turn, can support, uplift and empower you. So pick and idea, go with it and remember, You don’t have to do this alone.
Let go of the fear that if you pick one idea, the other ideas will dry up
This fear comes from the belief that ideas are finite. That we will only have so many good ones this month, this year, this lifetime. But we don’t need to worry about this, because creative energy, although it works in pulsation and sometimes we feel and sometimes we don’t, is an unending, infinite source.
As long as you are given your next breath, you will be given more ideas.
Let’s take this breath metaphor further, shall we? When you exhale, your inhalation naturally arises. It just happens, you don’t have to think about it or force it. This is the same with ideas. When you execute an idea, when you let your creative energy expand over an idea and let it become expressed through you, other ideas will, very naturally, continue to bubble up from that creative source within you.
Maya Angelou wrote that,
“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
So, are you going to let the fear that you will run out of good ideas hold you back from expressing a creative idea you are super excited about? I didn’t think so.
Pick and idea and go get ‘em you creative rocket, you!