I’ve been plagued in my life by a constant stream of interesting ideas and creative diversions to which I have given my full attention for a time, usually to be pulled in a different direction almost all of a sudden to the next one or drawn into the demands of mundane reality or what-have-you. Over the years and decades, this means that in real terms, I’ve got a litany of only half-realized projects and a sense of real wanting in my overall progress as an effective creator.

This feeling became even more pronounced after I became a dad. I instantly had less free-time, less focus, less self-care, less energy, less risk-taking, less motivation…

In a review of my various projects, be they music, apps, games or manifestos, I realize that many of them had perennial themes (for me that is) and that my problem isn’t actually that I am discarding the old ideas in favor of the new, but that I’m cycling through a series of interests and concepts and the real problem is that by taking so long to return to my ideas, I just lose the momentum needed to see any of them through in the window of time I’m focusing on them.

Now of course, I could accept that I should just pick the most important one and see it to completion, but I have tried telling my brain to do this before and it doesn’t really work.  I can believe it will for a while, but it just doesn’t hold.  And without making excuses for all the reasons why, at 45 years old, I’m more interested in how to work within the personality I’ve got than trying to force myself to be something I’m not and feeling bad about not achieving that transformation directly.

So I had an epiphany of sorts, but it didn’t come by sitting quietly and surveying my life. What actually happened to me is I had a little idea for a story. It started out as just a premise and some imagery in my head, and then I sat down to try and write a bit of it and soon found it spiraling out into something much more.

As I looked to fill in details and flesh out my vision, I began to realize that the universe which was opening up in my story was big enough to “hold” nearly all of the other random concepts and half-baked projects I’d ever started. In concrete terms, what I began to do was put these things into my story as elements and I was able to give them a life that they would never have in reality.

What’s weird? It suddenly didn’t matter that they were real or not.

It didn’t matter that they weren’t finished; now they were alive. They had virtual lives, perhaps, but these felt much more hopeful somehow than their real lives as inert, unproven, unfinished drags on my self-esteem. I became unburdened by the sense of failure in not getting them done, because what was exciting now was plugging them into something and giving them meaning.

What was the icing on the cake about this approach is that, now, my story, my magnum opus, is being fed by all these disparate projects and interests of my life, has become big enough and meaningful enough that it has essentially occupied my full creative attention for more than a year. This is an absolutely unprecedented level of staying power for me for a single idea, and it has been very positive for my sense of purpose and optimism about reaching a place I can ever be comfortable enough to open up and share an intimate part of my usually very internal self with the world.

I’m not writing this post to reveal the project itself. Not just yet. I am writing this to share the positive nature of what this approach has done for me and to recommend to anyone else with similar struggles, having a million different projects, all unfinished, with the same kind of desperation at feeling like they’ll never get finished or launched or whatever. I am writing this with a suggestion:

Try to write as many of your unfinished ideas into a single made-up universe and watch them become more real. Feel good for a minute about what you have devised and what resolution you have already put into them in your head. See how they take on new meaning and if it lifts your burden. See if doing so can drive your focus in a more fulfilling direction.

I’ll be sharing more about developments on my project soon. Good luck and please share if you’re trying this or something similar and what you’ve learned!

My weird strategy for creative scatterbrains

2 thoughts on “My weird strategy for creative scatterbrains

  • March 31, 2020 at 5:32 pm

    This is really clever and I’m going to try this

  • April 8, 2021 at 4:02 am

    I started writing a book when I was 13 or 14 and unknowingly hype-man’d it to my family. “I’m working on a book…you’ll hear more about it in 1 month. No sooner”


    I moved onto other projects—I think creating music videos of my favorite movies and songs I found on DC++ —before the month was over.

    Part of me thinks that’s one of the joys of creativity and another part gets similarly frustrated at not seeing something through.

    At least for digital creations, one peaceful tool I’ve been using to help with that balance is to regularly delete any file I haven’t viewed in N days. Scoped to certain directories. Desktop stays a place for fresh creativity and I’m reminded that everything else is “archival” work. Here’s the script in a gist: https://gist.github.com/higgins/b825103ce0bcf3fbefc79a43921244b5

    Anyway, I like the idea of a virtual universe of ideas. Reminds me of the opening of Slacker: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-9l7K7LftQ

    and that episode of TNG where Moriarty tries to leave the holodec.

    Excited to read more! Thanks for sharing!


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