One of the hardest things about being a ‘creative type’ is knowing what NOT to create.
What NOT to work on.
What to put aside for a moment – or a few months, or even years - and let it wait until the time is right.
Most ‘creatives’ have defined periods of productivity and . . . definitely not that.
Times when the page is stubbornly, defiantly, almost mockingly blank, and the bastard ideas won’t come.
Call it Writer’s Block; lack of sleep; having an ‘off day (or month...!)’, a period of depression, or just not getting your shit together;
And then, for no reason we can understand or predict, our minds suddenly think of things.
A LOT of things.
Often all at the same time.
Ideas explode in our heads like a fireworks factory going up.
BANG upon BANG of colourful, sparkling thoughts and ideas, projects and plans, stuff we want to work on…RIGHT NOW!!
For me, it feels a bit like a bright sky full of falling, swirling ticker-tape.
A blizzard of words and ideas flickering and falling around me, each one more exciting, brilliant and absolutely DEFINITELY multi-award-winning than the next.
But there is often so much ticker-tape falling, it's blinding.
I can’t see any of it properly, or catch any of the pieces.
Occasionally I manage to grab one, and I run with it.
I work like a demon on this latest Brilliant Project, invest huge amounts of time, money and energy, get no sleep, talk at 500 miles an hour, don't finish sentences and
In this state I can leap from one thought to another -
Hang on! Book idea! There are not many books about folding towels for maximum drying efficiency. But everyone needs dry towels, right?? I shall write it!
within seconds, and
- are chia seeds really all that good for you? I might make a podcast series about it! -
generally annoy the heck out of everyone I live with.
And then, just when I'm all excited and am Definitely Going To Make This Work,
OH HELLOOOO, BABY! Along comes another fabulous new idea.
Look how wonderful it is! THIS is the one.
No really. THIS one.
So I do an immediate hand-brake turn, and go screeching off down a new creative road.
Generally about 2 weeks before I crash spectacularly into another creative low.
This, my friend, is CLASSIC creative-type lack of focus.
And it's also classic Long-Term Disaster.
If everyone in the London Marathon set off at the same time but scattered in random directions from Brighton to Inverness, Abergavenny to Whitstable, they may well do some of the most awesome running they’ve ever done and bask in pleasing cheers and support along the way, but if they don’t CROSS THE FINISH LINE, it doesn’t count for anything.
They might as well have sat on the sofa all day eating Doritos and watching Kung Fu Panda 3.
Twice. (Which is not the same as watching King Fu Panda 6, in case you wondered.)
I’ve had several years of running in many directions at the same time.
If you’ve ever tried to do this, you’ll know that it looks really, really stupid.
And it tires you out.
It’s exhausting, in fact!
And it gets you nowhere.
I have armfuls of half-finished projects;
Half-written books; columns, features, podcasts, websites, radio shows, novels, poems, songs, logos, cover designs, Instagram accounts, YouTube channels, and about 25 email accounts I don’t know the passwords to any more because I forgot the password to my ‘Passwords’ document.
Not crossing a finish line means you keep running and running and running…until your knees break and you fall into a bush, and have to be carried home on a stretcher wrapped up in one of those giant pieces of tin foil like a sweat-basted turkey.
And when this running never ends, when the finish line gets no nearer, what we pond-skater minds, we thinkers, we Creators of Stuff, we ticker-tape-catchers, need most, is
No, I’m not talking about our favourite Twitter follower, genuinely helpful though that can be. (You are ALL MY FAVOURITES, anyway.)
I’m talking about a real, actual, present PERSON.
A person who knows us, cares about us, and whose opinions we trust, and value.
Some people have an agent. These can be invaluable, and I often really wish I had a good one to bounce ideas off, get direction from, and be told which ideas have legs and which are best consigned to the Bin of Shame.
Some people have a manager, a business partner, or a mentor.
I have a Best Friend Person.
Last week, after I got back from a deeply depressing meeting with a literary agent who advised me to throw away everything I’ve worked on for the last ten years, everything I live off and have built a career around, and write a novel instead – something for which I currently have no aptitude, experience or desire - my Best Friend Person sat me down and said,
Do NOT start a new thing. Do not start writing a novel.
Please, please PICK ONE THING you have started, AND FINISH IT.
ANY thing! It doesn't matter which one.
But finish the damned thing."
And you know what?
He is right.
(This is one of many reasons why I put up with his entire wardrobe of clothes lying in a 3-foot, slightly dank-smelling pile on the floor, next to an orange, which has been slowly decomposing there for two months because we both refuse to either acknowledge or move it.
We are having an Orange-Off. And I am going to win.)
He is right, and it applies to us all.
Sometimes, we need to STOP, PICK ONE THING, AND FINISH IT.
So I have picked it.
It’s so obvious, as well!
It’s the thing I love most, will do the most good in this world, and I want to work on the most.
And it is, of course….Headcase.
For now, I’ve put away a thousand pieces of head-spinning, focus-shattering, time-swallowing ticker tape – not forever, but into the Box Of Things You May Not Work On Right Now, Elizabeth – and I have picked my ONE THING.
It feels hugely liberating, positive, and FOCUSSED.
So if you’re struggling with doing too much, and finishing nothing, please try it.
Let’s cross that finish line together.