The (Broken) Idea Machine

You might as well know it. I’m stuck. Yep, the coach is stuck. Actually, I wouldn’t trust a coach who has never been stuck, frustrated, and angry. Just like I wouldn’t trust a creativity coach who has never worked on, struggled with, and solved creative problems. If you haven’t failed, you haven’t tried hard enough. If you haven’t screwed up, you haven’t risked enough.

Forest. . .

So, what’s my problem? I’m not sure. I think it was too much forest-gazing and not enough tree focus. In other words, I’m swamped by ideas about the book, which is keeping me from writing.

Here’s how I am working on getting out of my own way. I went to the studio, grabbed a pack of index cards, and wrote one idea per card. The outline of the book is complete and approved, so it’s not the structure of the book, it’s thinking of related classes, activities, marketing ideas, and specific examples for the book.

For as long as I had ideas, each one got scribbled on a card and thrown over my

. . . tree

back. That way I couldn’t be panicked by the variety of unruly ideas, and could clear them from my head.

After about an hour, I turned around and saw the index cards all over the studio–on the floor, on the shelves, on the stack of books. I did not read them. I picked them up, without sorting them, and tied them with a pretty ribbon. They are safe until I am ready for them.

Now I have to get busy writing with a clear mind.

-Quinn McDonald can drive herself crazy with or without permission. When a client calls in an state of overwhelment (I know, but it should be a word), she can draw the map, which is a good thing, although it rarely feels that way.

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24 thoughts on “The (Broken) Idea Machine

    • For me, it’s a big rush–“Whew, all those ideas are safe, I won’t forget them, and I don’t have to think about them and flesh them out now.” I will admit that a few stray ideas about other things get written down, too, but that’s fine.

  1. When my mind is buzzing with ideas or I’m overwhelmed by how much I need to do and cannot move, I get a great big piece of paper and get scribbling all those ideas or tasks down, linking them together with arrows and if the paper isn’t big enough, I get another piece and add it on. When I feel relaxed again I roll it up and put it away until I was to use it as a compass for where I am. If it’s a ‘to do’ kind of thing I cross items off – it’s very satisfying. . . and I feel whelmed again!

    As a diversion, and a reminder that slips are almost inevitable and perseverence is rewarded, watch One Thousand Steps on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksiob6KVPDw 🙂

  2. SO…I am following your example. Taking a time-out from my schedule, grabbing my pile of index cards, and writing everything my brain is over thinking a photography conference I’ve committed to, one that is now causing feelings of overwhelm, as I think of all that which must be done.

    A GREAT idea. Then I can get back to what needs to be done by this afternoon. Whew!

      • Thought you would like to know — this is success! I have a bundled set of ideas on index cards that are no longer free floating in my head! And I just finished the last thing on today’s to do list. Yay!

  3. That is a great way of clearing your head. I start getting all those ideas too and then I start feeling overwhelmed by all of it and start second-guessing myself and on and on and on. But writing them down, one to a card, and then just putting them away for the time being. That sounds like a good plan to me.

    • It’s broken like the chocolate line for Lucy and Ethel–first nothing moved, then a lot of ancillary ideas that have nothing to do with the matter at hand started spewing. When the idea machine works well, it doles out one tidy idea at a time.

      • Hmmm…for me it’s quite different. I’m usually aware, in a background sort of way, that ideas are infinitely available, sort of like swimming in an ocean. It doesn’t really feel like they “arise” as much as they’re just always “there”. Long ago I was nervous about this and felt like I had to record them all lest they’d be lost forever. Then I noticed (or realized, or something) they were just *always there* and they weren’t “mine” anyway. So I just tried to “not attend to them” — the thing this is most like is when I had a (fairly horrific) knee injury and somehow became able to cope with the pain by not “feeling” it. Sort of. It appears to be harder to explain than I anticipated.

        Anyway minds are different. A math student told an eminent professor about the brainteaser where there are two trains approaching each other at specific speeds, and there’s a theoretical fly that flies from one to the other then immediately back, and so on. The fly is also traveling at a fixed speed. The professor immediately gives the right answer. The student says “yep, the way to solve it is to figure out how long it will take the trains, then apply that to the fly. Would you believe, most people think you have to calculate the infinite series represented by the fly alone!” The professor says “but that IS the way I solved it.” My mind is more like the professor: I take what seem to be absurdly complicated paths to answers. 🙂

  4. Maybe your client was addled, bewildered, assailed, or paralyzed. “Overwhelmed” suggests “defeated” to me.

    When I have too much to do and there are too many possible ways to do it I use a lesson from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. A writing student couldn’t think of anything to write about the town theater. The lesson was: start writing about the brick in the lower left corner. When you’re done with that, start on the next brick…

    • Overwhelmed doesn’t mean defeated to me. It just means too much going on in too many different directions. No action, no traction. Or, as I like to say (in that textile kind of way) Too much spinning, not enough weaving.

      • I must be thinking about its origins, which (at least I think) have to do with battle-type contention and being “overwhelmed” by an opposing force.

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