Over the years, I’ve met many a guy and a gal who dream of embarking on a new project or creative endeavour – maybe blogging, or creating art, or starting a YouTube channel – but they’re held back by the worry: “What if I run out of things to say?”
I was scared of this – no, I was fucking terrified of it – when I first started this website almost 1 year ago (late 2018). Starting up a website – particularly a self-development website – is scary as shit and opens you up to all sorts of vulnerability. You worry about if you’re enough of an expert to be giving advice, whether people will think you’re a fraud, if anybody will even read your blog. But the thing you worry about the most is, “What if I don’t have anything to contribute? What if I have nothing to write about?“
It’s a reasonable fear, but reality usually has a different plan in mind: once you get into writing (or really any sort of creative endeavour, from art to marketing and advertising to Youtubing to product design and everything in between), you tend to have too many ideas and not enough time to complete them all. You start thinking of new ideas pretty often – in fact, all the damn time. You’ll be walking down the street, and something will inspire The Next Great Idea™. You’ll hurriedly pull out your phone, furiously banging away at the keys, desperate to write it down before the idea is lost. 20 minutes later a conversation with a friend will spark another idea and you’ll quickly write that one down too. You’ll watch something on TV and think of 3 more ideas.
Oh and showers? Forget having a normal shower any more; when you dedicate yourself to some form of creative endeavour you’ll never have a normal shower ever again. Thoughts flood your brain quicker than the billion-and-one droplets slapping against your skin. 10 minute showers turn into 50 minute epic writing sessions, tapping away on an incredibly inefficient and incredibly wet phone screen until you finally say, “Fuck this” and jump out, racing to the computer without drying yourself, yelling at the damn thing to hurry up and boot up so you can continue your flurry of creative expression before you lose that frustratingly-fleeting creative flood.
And other people? Once people hear what you’re doing and pin you as “That Photography Guy” or “That YouTube Creator” or “That Blogging Dude”, they’ll absolutely flood you with suggestions and inspiration on a near-constant basis. “Dude, you absolutely have to do something with this cool idea I have!” The worst (or best?) part is most of those ideas are legitimately fucking cool, and you know you absolutely have to do them at some point… As soon as you get time.
You get to a point where the ideas come flooding in 10x faster than you can possibly get through them. Ideas pile up, your in-tray seems like an insurmountable Mt Everest, and before you know it you’re staring at:
Yeah… as of right now I have 101 half-written articles; many of them only needing another 3 or 4 hours to complete. So much for, “What if I run out of things to say?” And if you’re reading this a year, or two, or three years in the future, that number will likely have swelled far beyond what any human could reasonably tackle in the next 5 years.
Sounds like an awesome problem to have, right? It’s definitely better than the alternative – having nothing to say – but god damn, having too many ideas can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. If I have 101 drafts after only 11 months of writing, how many pending ideas will I have in another 11 months? Another 2 years? 5 years? How the hell will I ever get it all done?
It often feels like a never-ending torrent of information flooding my brain; an infinite number of topics I have to write about, but a very finite number of hours in the day. Made worse by the fact I work a full-time job and have frustratingly-little time and energy to get through my backlog. Each idea deserves to have its voice heard; they all deserve a chance in the spotlight. Sure, some ideas are better than others, but if I wrote the idea down in the first place, I obviously think it has inherent value.
This is a running theme for my life – I’m a great starter, but a less-awesome finisher. During my photo-a-day project, I had so many ideas for photos, my notebook swelled to 739 ideas by the end of it. Yep, after doing 365 different photos, all with unique concepts, I had another 739 MORE ideas I could have immediately gone out and shot.
All of this is my own doing, of course. I start 10 new projects before I’ve even finished the first one. I get overtaken by that creative urge when I have an exciting fresh new idea; becoming a man possessed, overcome by passion and unable to stop myself writing all my thoughts down “lest I forget them”. I don’t think I can stop – I struggle to let an idea go without writing it down. At this point, it’s probably pathological.
Even right now, I have 9 tabs open in my browser – 9 different articles I’m working on, simultaneously. I go through and add little bits to an article, then get bored and switch to another tab and add bits to that article… Cycling between them, never actually finishing one.
Maybe it’s just the way I like to write. Perhaps other creative people are just like me, bouncing from one idea to the next, in a state of manic energy, possessed by each new idea and unable (or unwilling?) to let it go. But only making it halfway through, until the exciting novelty of the new idea has faded a bit and it’s time for the actual gritty work of fleshing that idea out into a fully-fledged thing… That bit is much less fun.
That bit kinda sucks.
Sitting down and working on that old project that’s been sitting there for months, uncompleted because you’ve let yourself procrastinate by thinking up 50 new ideas instead, distracting yourself with novel new projects so you don’t have to do the hard thing and instead get to do the fun thing.
It’s the finishing that’s tough; bringing your idea to full maturity – in my case, hitting that damn Publish button. That fucking Publish button. I hate it – because hitting it means I’m putting my work out into the public sphere and saying, “Hey world, I think something I did is good enough. I think I am good enough.”
Right as I’m about to hit that motherfucking Publish button, I’m acutely aware of the article’s flaws, the bits I could flesh out and add more to, the paragraphs that are too short. I get stuck in a cycle of “This article is still too short/not perfect enough, I need to keep adding to it”, the result of which is the article is never good enough. Perfectionist mindset is a bitch.
So I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place – admittedly one of my own making. I have longer, more important articles I want to write (very very very in-depth guides on BDSM, Tinder, open relationships and 3somes) – but they’re taking a long time because they’re so fricking detailed. Each guide will be well over the length of a novel – probably 100,000 words each. I’ve also put more pressure on myself to make them “perfect” (or as close to it as I can get), because they’ll be my cornerstone content; my magnum opuses (opii?).
But on the other hand, I don’t want to go months without releasing any articles at all; I don’t want my site to look like an abandoned wasteland. So I chip away at the long series a bit, then jump back to the shorter, easier articles; and therein lies the rub: it feels like I’m not getting very much done.
Even this article itself is a procrastination. I’m just writing it because it’s a fun, easy, relatable topic to write about, and I get to procrastinate writing about the articles I really should be writing about. And, I’ve even procrastinated this article – I first started writing it four months ago and I still haven’t actually finished it, instead consumed by 30 other Awesome Article Ideas I couldn’t stop myself from half-finishing as well, growing that massive pile of incompleteness.
Like a lot of humans, I’m self-aware about my procrastinating, but fuck it, I’m still going to procrastinate.
I’m getting better, though. Slowly. But surely. One thing that helps is forcing myself to sit down and work on old, unfinished ideas – The Stuff I Don’t Really Want to Do. If I sit down for long enough and just force myself to stare at the bloody screen, after a while I finally stop fighting it and actually start working on the articles I’ve been procrastinating. It’s never easy, but I always eventually get there.
It also helps to remind myself that I suck, my writing sucks, I don’t have to be perfect at this and sometimes it’s ok to hit that shitty Publish button on an article that’s not as perfect as it could possibly be.
Sometimes you just have to say, “Yeah, it’s good enough. Time to move on to the next piece.”
And as for completely getting through my list of unwritten ideas & finishing all of them – that’ll never happen. I’m slowly learning to let go of the notion I’ll ever complete everything I have to do. Much as I’d love to have an empty in-tray, I know that’s impossible. When we die, our in-tray will still be piled up with unfinished tasks, littered with all the great ideas we didn’t get around to completing. That’s the nature of being a human, and it’s perfectly ok.
If there’s one thread that permeates every article on my website – if there’s one thing I want you to take away from everything I have to say – it’s this:
It’s ok to be messy, disorganised, inefficient, imperfect. It’s ok to not have your shit together, at all. It’s fine to jump between projects, it’s fine to switch your goals – as long as you keep moving forward one baby step at a time. Make daily progress on at least something, and you’ll end up living a pretty awesome life.
Don’t mistake any of this for me complaining about writing, or the creative processes in general. I absolutely love writing. It’s cathartic; healing. It helps me get my ideas out on paper so they’re not stuck bouncing around in my head, driving me insane because I don’t get to share them with anybody when I know some of them will be gems.
Writing and sharing my ideas is very much self-counselling for me, as I talk myself through my own ideas, thoughts, teachings, problems. Every time I write an article, I get to spend a few days brainstorming everything about that topic, and I inevitably end up viewing it from a completely new and fresh angle I’d never considered before. Much as I’d love to be Mr Altruistic, I write for me, more than I write for you. I write not to teach you, but to teach myself.
Writing also helps me cement my own ideas and figure out where I stand on certain issues. By writing, mentoring and teaching, you get to think through the seedlings of your less-fleshed-out ideas and nuture them to a fully-grown flower. “Teaching is the best way to learn”, and all that.
The obsessive, compulsive, possessed frame of mind you get into when you’re Being Creative is also shared by everyone who truly wants something.
If you’re desperate to build a successful business, you dedicate ever spare second you have to building it up, expanding rapidly, hiring new people, making it as awesome as possible. You become a business owner 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – nothing else matters. You breathe business, dream about business, talk to everyone about business; it engulfs you – you can’t help yourself, just like I can’t help myself when an idea takes me over.
It’s 12.30am and I should probably head to bed, but I’ll leave you with one final thought:
This article actually started out as a stupid joke between my girlfriend and I; “I have 100 unfinished articles. I should write an article about how I keep starting new articles.” This was never meant to be anything other than an unfinished draft; a joke buried in the bottom of my todo list that I’d never get around to finishing.
But when I forced myself to Do The Hard Work and see this idea through to the end rather than chasing a novel new idea, it grew into something half-decent, something I’m glad I finished. Don’t throw away your “dumb”, silly ideas, because you’ll often find – with a bit of nurturing – they blossom into something pretty cool.
And every now and then, sit down and do the hard, un-fun work you know you really should be doing. It isn’t as much fun as chasing The Next Great New Idea™, but you have to start clearing that in-tray at some point.
At least just a little.
Update: I wrote a companion piece to this: Musings of a Non-Completionist 2.