3 Methods to Clean and Conquer a Cluttered Mind
A reader recently asked me if I would write a post on managing projects and ideas. Whether you're a visual artist, writer, musician, or any kind of person who likes to lead an productive lifestyle, sometimes the problem isn't having too little projects, rather too many, (and often not enough time to pursue them).
First off, this is an interesting issue because many amateur writers or artists complain about a blockage, or shortage of inspiration to draw from. If, for whatever reason, there are too many ideas coming to fruition, I wouldn't necessarily say there is a problem to begin with. You simply are in need of a few techniques to harvest them all.
Method One: Bulldozer
This is definitely for the more hardworking individual, someone who has a good grasp of how to manage her time, and is capable of dealing with common disruptions (getting sick, relative's death, dog needs to be groomed, etc., etc.) But, as is the nature of any artistic endeavor, the ones that are not materializing need contemplation to survive. If you are ruminating on other projects while focused solely on one, it is easy for some of these side-projects in your head to die out before they can even meet the pen, the brush, the guitar, or whatever your medium happens to be.
This is why it's vital to write down extra ideas and give them some attention, even if it's just for a few minutes every day. When I am writing a novel, I often find inspiration for short stories or novelettes sprouting up spontaneously. The worst feeling is losing this inspiration simply because I was focusing too much on one piece. It's like punishing yourself for doing something good. And it's a waste.
These little fits of inspiration or ideas that you get while tackling one endeavor are bound to arise. If they are distracting you, good, let them distract you. So often in life are we short of inspiration to do something artistic. Don't let them die! Write them down somewhere, and return to it occasionally. Maybe add extra notes and thoughts as time goes on, and allow the idea to evolve, but deter the evolution process to a crawl so that you are still excited about pursuing it later. Do not give it the same attention as the current project that you have been working on, lest you get sucked up into the excitement of beginning a new one.
When I am writing a novel, and characters for other stories begin to creep into my mind, I do not ignore them. I give them a separate environment in my head that gives them room to develop while I finish up the novel.
The purpose of this method is to keep this spark of inspiration alive so that it not only fuels your willingness to complete your current project, but also gives you a place to go when that endeavor is finished. Again, whatever you do ...
Don't let it die!
Method Two: Multi-Tasker
You're too much of a badass. You don't need the first method. Focus on one project? Pshaw! You can't even focus on two or three without being bored to death.
Perhaps you are not deep enough in one project to consider finishing it before you can work on other ideas. Perhaps your mind is so cluttered with inspiration that you are afraid you will lose it all, so you'd rather throw yourself at all of the opportunities at once in order to take advantage of them.
This is perfectly all right. We all get a little cracked out from time to time when we have too many shots of espresso. But if you feel like you can conquer the world with your caffein boost, you better organize what's going on in your head before you erupt into an A-bomb of efficiency.
Instead of waiting for the end of a project to start another, take advantage of your energy to schedule a time when you will execute the next idea. Give one project a short 'break' to begin work on another. Tell yourself when you finish writing a particular chapter, or finish a certain number of lines of music, or get to the next stage in one project, then you let yourself pursue the next concept.
I tip my hat off to people that do this. Certainly I cannot. However, I see immense potential in the notion of allowing multiple undertakings to evolve at similar stages, so that eventually they will all be finished at roughly the same time.
A good example of this would be short story writers: you need to finish writing one, editing another, but you also have the energy and instinct to start a completely new story. If you're a musician, you may have multiple pieces or songs that are all maturing at the same time, but in different stages. This is all perfectly well and good, but what you don't want to do is neglect the final stages of one project for the thrill of starting a new one. It's necessary to finish some things completely.
It's easy for amateurs to think that they need to practice, practice, practice, and therefore finishing projects is not nearly as important as starting one. I beg to differ. Especially with the writing process, there are an immense number of nuances and struggles that accompany going through the painstaking work of finishing something, polishing it, and seeing it through to the bitter end.
But whatever you do ...
Don't let one die for the sake of another.
Method Three: Frankenstein's Artistic Monster
Different projects? Separate ideas? Life is far too short.
One of the first reactions I had when I considered writing this post was asking myself why someone might feel overwhelmed with multiple ideas, to the extent that they are actually nervous that these ideas will 'run into one another' and prevent a creative flow from occurring.
One of the few possible explanations I came up with was this: your projects, or endeavors are not difficult or complex enough to satisfy your potential.
If your mind is filled to the brim with ideas, it could mean that you're just productive, awesome, or slinging some D. (Click the link to be redirected my brother's website Rev:Me, a site that revolves around revolutionizing your habits). But it could also mean that you are not satisfying your creative drive to the extent that you feel happy with your creations, both in their complexity and in their quality.
Instead of taking the path of least resistance and attempting to conquer your goals separately, (i.e. writing separate short stories, multiple songs with different lyrics, separate paintings, etc., etc.) perhaps you are in need of creating a monster of all your efforts. Instead of dividing them up, you can take the extra energy and effort to combine multiple ideas into one. Instead of two different stories with similar plot arcs, you can combine the characters, their lives and struggles together to craft a novel or creation that is doubly complex and much more impressive.
We would all tip our hats off to George R.R. Martin for writing separate storylines, each one having compelling protagonists like Tyrion Lannister, Eddard Stark, and Daenerys Targaryen. But instead we draw back, we tune in for the latest episodes, and we devour his books because they do not have separate, leading protagonists. There is a coherent and epic story that is as complex and interwoven as our own lives that astounds us with its realism and complexity. Part of what makes it such a masterpiece (some would not call it so, but I do), is that it represents a higher stage of development in an author. It is a model of patience and deliberation.
Like a blacksmith, instead of forging a sword only of one metal, he instead combines multiple metals, and works proportionally harder with each added component, in order to create something that requires so much more time and energy, but is overall much more beautiful and worthy of being admired.
When it comes to this method, if you are brave enough to challenge the quest, to take up your sword and shield and face the opponents: yourself, laziness, sleeplessness; whatever you do, (after putting down the metaphorical visor of your helm) ...
Don't doubt yourself, and don't be afraid to do something different.