What to Do When You Have Too Many Ideas

Welcome to Good Enough Creative, a podcast for creative people.

Welcome back! I’m your host, Marie Greene, and today I want to talk about what to do when you have too many ideas.

Have you ever dealt with TOO much of something? Maybe you’ve had a garage full of stuff. Or a basement full. Or a storage unit.

Have you ever had a closet overflowing or a drawer you couldn’t shut?

Sometimes the creative mind can feel a little bit like that. There are so many ideas, so many potential projects, so much inspiration, so many possibilities.

And it can almost feel overwhelming.

People often ask me how I come up with so many ideas, and honestly – for me, it’s never a problem coming up with ideas. I’m an idea generator. My problem is having too many ideas for one lifetime. And just because I know I’ll never get to them all, it doesn’t mean I’m not willing to try.

When we’re surrounded with clutter or excess in our physical spaces, we have to get organized, declutter, and let a few things go.

It’s not all that different with our ideas.

I think any super creative person can relate to feeling like they often have more ideas than they have hours in the day (or even the energy to do them all). And, for myself, I often find that I’m task-switching between one project and another because I want to try and make progress on all of them. So sometimes my days are spent running back and forth between my work, my projects, reheating cups of coffee, household chores, more projects, more work, and everything in between.

I think the struggle is that life doesn’t pause or make space for us to be creative. We have to work it into our ordinary days. On any given Monday, I’m a wife, mom, sister, boss, friend, artist, writer, knitter, podcaster, volunteer, you name it. And all of those parts of myself have to coexist. which can feel like a goal post that never stays still. It’s always moving, and so are the days. So finding the time and space for practically unlimited ideas while also juggling the demands of being human, is no small feat.

Do you ever feel like you have more ideas, more projects, and more possibilities than you can ever get around to?

Author Julia Cameron (who wrote The Artist’s Way) talks about an idea called Morning Pages. This isn’t really journaling, it’s not a to-do list, and it’s not really writing, either. It’s the practice of waking up each morning and sitting down with a pen (or a pencil) and a notebook and writing three pages of words by hand. When I first heard this idea, I assumed it was a creative exercise, and would consist of something related to the ideas you want to get moving forward. But no! Julia’s idea is far more practical than that.

Morning pages are a brain dump. They’re whatever is in your mind at any given moment. They’re words that are stuck in your head, things you forgot, whatever you’re feeling in the moment, something that bothers you from last week, something you’re worried you’ll forget tomorrow, your shopping list, or what you dreamt last night. Morning pages have no rules at all, except that there must be three of them – enough that you do have to dig around in your head and look in the corners to find whatever might be hiding in there. According to Ms. Cameron, Morning Pages help you clear everything out of your mind. She said that when she has students who tell her they’re TOO CREATIVE and they don’t know what to do with all of the ideas they have – she says, Do your morning pages.

Now, I’ve just come across this idea so I haven’t had a chance to put it to work yet, but I’m going to start tomorrow (so I can do it first thing) and I’ll report back. But I think this idea has merit, and I can absolutely see why it helps.

If you’re like me, there are probably a lot of loose pieces of information in your head at any given moment. I’ve found that when I make a list, my head feels a little less noisy. Instead of having to hold onto a thought that I don’t want to forget to send this email or grab this thing at the store, or finish this one task on my list that’s due next week – but that I know I could finish early if I just had an hour of uninterrupted time…. The list goes on and on and on. When I stop long enough to put everything on a list, I feel like my focus is so much better. Because I don’t have to keep holding onto all of that in my head. I can look at my list, cross things off, and move through my day a little more easily.

And I think Morning Pages serve a similar purpose. Getting all of those loose bits of information, tasks, thoughts, whatever – out of our minds first thing – can free up the mental space so that we can think a little more clearly and navigate our days with intention. When you have to fit creativity into the margins of your day, every little bit of extra space helps.

The second thing, that Julia Cameron says is a Basic Tool of the Artist’s Way is something she calls Artist’s Dates. And what I love about this idea is that it’s very much something I already believe in – I’ve talked so much about changing your surroundings, getting outside, going to museums, putting yourself in a space for inspiration and new ideas, but the way she frames this idea is taking it a step further. She marries the concept of changing your surroundings with play – two things we’ve talked about here on the podcast regularly. And Artist’s Date is a once a week date that you make with yourself, and the goal is to enchant yourself. You’re supposed to go alone, not with your partner, not with a significant other, not with a friend – just yourself, and go spend a little time doing something that delights you. She even says, really think of it as a date and you’re “wooing” yourself. Go to the fabric store. Go to the art supply store. Go to a museum. Go play, and let yourself be delighted by something. It doesn’t have to be a big something – but what you’re doing is putting yourself in a state of mind that allows creativity to sprout.

I also found it interesting that Ms. Cameron talks about how easy it is to talk people into work, because that’s such a part of our psyche – especially in the United States – where we are so work-focused, and when she tells her students that they need to schedule a weekly solo play date for themselves, they are resistant.

And I’ll be the first to admit that I’m also resistant, even though I absolutely know how good it is for me. Often I schedule my artist’s dates with a friend or my husband, because I know I’m more likely to follow through when I have someone else committed to do it with me. I know it’s harder for me to follow through on something that’s not a HAVE TO, and it’s not work, and nobody will know or care if I don’t do it. But the value of making that time is that it fills the inner wellspring of creativity.

Art has to come from somewhere – and usually, it’s from a place within us. Stress, worry, deadlines, responsibilities, so many of the things we’re all dealing with every day are drawing from that well – and then when we finally sit down to make art (in whatever way we’re drawn to do), we may feel too depleted to do it. A weekly Artist’s Date with yourself can fill that well again, so that your ideas can find their way into being.

So today I have two challenges for you. The first is to start your day with Morning Pages. And if you’re hearing this later in the day, start it tomorrow. Morning is the best time to do it. Pour out every thought in your head, no matter how mundane or boring or useless, just let that stream of consciousness pour onto the page. And once it’s there, your job is done. The whole purpose is just to clear that space out of your head so that there’s more room for creativity.

And the second challenge, schedule an Artist’s Date with yourself this week. Even if you only have thirty minutes, find the time to go and do something delightful by yourself. Maybe it’s just going for a walk in your neighborhood, but if you can get to the art store or the botanical garden or the farmer’s market – something that feels joyful, frivolous and fun – embrace a little bit of play so that you can fill that wellspring within you that will carry you – and your many ideas – through the next week.

The more we embrace mindful routines and make intentional space for creativity in our lives, the more creative our lives will be. If you feel like a creative soul stuck in a mainstream life, THIS is how you break out. Sure, you’ll still have to do laundry, and pay the bills, and clean the litter box, but – you’ll be living a more creative, fulfilling, and joyful life along the way.

Too many ideas? No problem. Having a creative practice can help you channel those ideas and make space for a few more to come into form.

If you love this podcast and would like to support the show and receive bonus episodes, please become a premium member like Jenn, Millie, Erika and Tamara – thank you for your support.

Until next time, my friend – you’ve got this.

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