It happens most often when I’m doing work for a client. An idea comes into my head, or I see the opportunity to use an idea I’ve previously had, and I hold back.
I file the idea away thinking now is not the time. That I should save it for a personal project, or a different client, or a rainy day when I need it more than I do now. I imagine I’ll know when it’s the right moment and at that time, the curtain will lift and confetti will fly and there will be MY IDEA, perfectly ripened and ready for its big debut. Cue applause.
I’ve learned the hard way that this is not how it works. If I save my best ideas for later, what does that leave me with now? It leaves me with stifled work and a result I’m not proud of. It leaves me bloated with ideas that will eventually rot within the cage I’ve created for them (gross imagery, I know).
It’s like I think so little of myself that I believe I’ll never have a good idea again in my life. I fear this might be all I’ve got and that eventually I’ll be tapped out. But the creative life – or really, life in general – is not one of holding back. It’s one of giving freely. It’s one of opening up and letting it all flow through you.
Annie Dillard puts it perfectly in her book, "The Writing Life":
“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”
She’s talking about writing, but this truth applies to all creative fields. There is no wrong time. Every project, even the small ones, is an opportunity. One side project can change your life so if we are holding back, we are selling ourselves short.
Human beings are constantly evolving and sources of inspiration are all around us – in the people we meet, the books we read, the art we see, the trips we we take. That’s why it’s important to experience everything we can. The things we take in will influence what we put out into the world. So take it all in.
Waste your ideas. If they’re not ready and they die horrible deaths outside of your head in the real world, so be it. Something new will come to you.