Releasing the Burden of Hoarding Ideas
Updated: Mar 27
Are you just too creative? Do you find yourself with so many creative ideas for various projects that, deep down, you know you could never realize all of them in multiple lifetimes, let alone just one? Does making a decision between all these precious ideas feel like choosing which of your children live or die because you love them all so much? And, most of all, is this keeping you from realizing your fullest creative potential?
If this sounds like you, take solace in knowing that you're not alone. I've been in this situation for the past 15 years of my life (at least), and have just recently made massive headway in alleviating this problem. In this post, I'll detail my struggle with this issue and lay out exactly how I managed to deal with it so that you can too.
My Experience as an Idea-Hoarder
"The root of all suffering is attachment." - The Buddha
Over the years, as is the nature of a highly creative individual, I've come up with many ideas for creative projects - stories in particular. Some come and go, and others tend to stick around in my head, developing more complexity like a crystal forms around a catalyst. Needless to say, I've got a lot of these, most of which are for longer form stories.
This process has been going on now at full force for, at the absolute least, fifteen years or so (since I was about sixteen years old, and probably well before that as well), meaning the story ideas that I still have began their accumulation in earnest around that time, and each of these ideas I love dearly.
Watching what started off as a neat little inkling of an idea come to me like a bolt from the blue develop into a fully realizable working concept for a large sprawling narrative full of complex characters and highly detailed worlds and compelling plots is nothing short of amazing. It's akin to watching your own child grow from a helpless infant into a capable adult, and obviously that means I am very much attached to them.
This has happened to me probably seventeen times over the past decade and a half. That tiny little handful of story concepts I've included in the Story Index section of the site doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of how many story concepts I have, each of which historically have all meant a tremendous amount to me.
However, over the years it has become more and more apparent that it is precisely this obsession with accumulating more and more story ideas rather than taking one and running with it that is why I have nothing to show for creatively, save for a few pathetic attempts that ultimately amounted to nothing (no doubt due to a lack of commitment for fear of neglecting all my other precious story ideas).
-- There's a story told in Neil Gaiman's Sandman series of comics that illustrates the burden of an overabundance of ideas can have on a creative person. The story is called "Calliope", and tells of a novelist who kidnaps the muse Calliope and keeps her hostage so that she can provide him with constant inspiration. She calls upon Dream of the Endless to help her, and he confronts the novelist and ends up cursing him with so many ideas that he ultimately goes mad, scribbling them down on the walls with his bloodied fingertips because he ran out of paper and ink. Never have I seen a story describe so clearly how it feels to have an exorbitant surplus of creative ideas. --
So then, if I know what the problem is, then why don't I just pick one of these story ideas and just run with it? Here's the thing, though -- no matter which story I choose to go with, I always end up feeling terrible, like I've made a huge mistake. This is because I'm so invested in all of these other stories that, regardless of which one (or ones) I end up choosing, that means rejecting all the others, others I also love as dearly as the ones I would end up choosing.
In Buddhist parlance, this is called "Attachment".
Attachment, in this sense, is when you cling to something so tightly emotionally that letting go of said thing is unbearably painful, and thus produces suffering.
Attachment can occur not just with things or people, as is very common, but also with ideas. This has been my problem for so long now, and only very recently have I been able to do anything about it. For this whole time, I've been so attached to all of these precious story ideas that the thought of any of them perishing along with me without ever having been realized is absolutely insufferable... or I should say, was.
Allow me to use a common allegory to get my point across.
A Useful Metaphor to Illustrate my Point
"Put all your eggs in one basket, and watch that basket." - Andrew Carnegie
We've all heard of the colloquialism "don't put all your eggs in one basket", meaning don't invest all of your resources into a singular endeavor or project, because if it happens to fail, you've lost that entire investment. Therefore, it is better to diversify one's efforts such that not all resources (time, energy, attention, money, etc.) are lost. This, of course, is sound advice... if you're playing not to lose.
However, if you're playing to win, this simply won't do. Here's the full quote from Andrew Carnegie, founder of US Steel back at the turn of the century and the wealthiest man on earth at the time:
"The concerns which fail are those which have scattered their capital, which means that they have scattered their brains also. They have investments in this, or that, or the other, here, there and everywhere.“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” is all wrong. I tell you “put all your eggs in one basket, and then watch that basket.” Look round you and take notice; men who do that do not often fail. It is easy to watch and carry the one basket. It is trying to carry too many baskets that breaks most eggs in this country. He who carries three baskets must put one on his head, which is apt to tumble and trip him up. One fault of the American business man is lack of concentration." - from his 1885 address to the Curry Commercial College of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Let's say that the Eggs in this metaphor represent units of care, intent, will, or attention energy; these are little pieces of you that you use to invest into what you want out of life. Now, let's say the Baskets represent the vehicle with which you wish to express those bits of you; a creative project, let's say. The goal is to get the Eggs to those that need or want them with as few Baskets as possible such that you don't drop them.
What I had been doing this whole time was investing only one Egg in a dozen Baskets, rather than investing all of my dozen Eggs into a single Basket. However, I've been so attached to the Baskets that I mistook the game entirely - I thought it was about the Baskets, but it's about the Eggs!
Nobody cares about the creative project itself nearly as much as they do about the amount of love and care put into the project. This is probably why these huge corporate productions, despite their millions of dollars worth of resources at their disposal, struggle to compete with just average folks with a camera or microphone, laptop computer, and a heaping helping of Heart doing the same thing (making movies, reporting the news, podcasting, whatever).
But we only have so much each of us can give at a time. Even after realizing it's about the Eggs not the Baskets, I still found it hard to make a choice between which Basket with which to carry my Eggs, because I forgot to get the rest of my Eggs out of the other Baskets! For the longest time, when I started to go with one Basket, the others all cried out "What about us!?!" ... figuratively, that is, I'm not schizophrenic, I swear!
Even realizing I needed to move ahead with one project, I found I simply couldn't, because I was still attached to the other project ideas! Now, here's what I did about that.
What I Did to Free Myself
"Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional." - Haruki Murakami
It goes without saying that one can't simply snap their fingers and change their behavior in an instant. Just because the conscious mind is aware of a fault doesn't mean the unconscious mind, the one who's actually in control, is aware of it. It takes some work to reprogram oneself into different behavioral patterns, to get across the conscious mind's will to the boss, but it can be done.
The technique I employed to de-attach myself from these oh-so precious story ideas of mine, to gather up all the myriad of Eggs I'd left in disparate Baskets, is one called Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT for short. It's a technique for blowing out emotional charges on a particular issue by tapping on a specific array of acupressure meridian points on the face and body while repeating an affirmation related to said issue. The idea is that, by tapping on these points, you can energetically remove emotional blocks related to some issue.
In my own experience, when I've used EFT on something such as physical pain, it's not like the pain just magically goes away, but it does become more bearable because I'm not attached to it nearly to the extent that I was before I did the tapping. It's not pain that causes suffering, it's our attachment to the pain that causes us to suffer, and EFT allows you to free yourself from that attachment.
So, what I did was I gathered all my Baskets, all the disparate project ideas and story concepts I loved so very, very much, and went through each one, with the affirmation -
"Even though it is possible that [this story idea] may never be realized, it is okay".
And then, after I made peace with that, I reaffirmed through a subsequent series of EFT tapping that "I WILL make SOMETHING though!!" with ENTHUSIASM!!! That's an important point, because no thought not charged with EMOTION can ever hope to be properly imprinted upon the unconscious mind.
So I did this EFT tapping procedure with every single story idea and creative project I could cognize, ending with the all inclusive "and any other I can't think of at the moment". And that's it! That's all I did. It took about an hour and a half to go through the list of all 20+ things, but that's all I did. That's it, that's the procedure.
To make it easier for you, here are the steps you can take, in a convenient list:
Go through and find each and every creative project idea you have that you can't seem to let go of (be it a comic project, animation project, video game project, whatever, it can be literally anything).
Write each of them down on paper in a list so you can remember to tap on each one.
Choose one and go through the EFT tapping round with the affirmation "Even though it is possible that [my creative project I'm attached to] may never be realized, it is okay." or whatever it is about these creative projects that has you stuck.
(For me, it was the idea that they may never be realized, but for you it may be different, such as fearing you may screw it up, or that you're unworthy to try, or what others may think if you did try. Find your sticking point and use that.)
Then, immediately after that round, go through another EFT tapping round affirming that you WILL do something though, and use as much emotion and enthusiasm as you can muster.
(Again, this can be whatever feels right to you. For me, it was just getting something done at all, so I used that, but you may be different - maybe you want to do something correctly, or want the courage to try, or want the patience to see something through, or what have you. Whatever your sticking point is, this should be the opposite)
NOTE! Be SURE to put this in the affirmative, NOT the apophatic! That means putting it in the positive ("I WILL do something!") instead of the negative ("I WILL NOT do nothing!") Even though it may mean the same thing to your conscious mind, the unconscious mind doesn't understand apophatic meaning, and will read it as though you're saying the opposite ("I WILL do nothing!"), and remember, it's the unconscious mind we're trying to address here.
Repeat Step 3 and 4 with the next entry on your list until you've tapped on every one. After that, you're done!
If you're unsure that this is having any real result, try a kinesiological self muscle-test to see if it has had any effect. Tell yourself the same affirmation you used in the tapping session and do the muscle test on yourself. If you test strongly, that means your unconscious mind believes what has been said is true, and your body will remain firm. If you test weakly, that means your unconscious mind believes you just lied, therefore your body will go weak. It's a very handy tool to test if this really works.
-- Now, exactly how this works, I can't tell you for sure, because I really don't know. It could be that it works exactly as advertised, utilizing an as yet accepted by mainstream science energy system in the body known to the ancient Chinese and other cultures for millennia. It could be that it's just a ritual tool used to hammer an intent into the unconscious mind. It could just be placebo, I dunno. But I know this, though - it worked for me. And if it worked for me, it can work for you too. --
Some Interesting Results Afterwards
After I went through this rigorous round of EFT tapping, I noticed a few interesting side effects:
The dread I felt in relation to my creative projects vanished
After the session, I noticed a marked difference in myself. Before, I could feel a very faint... something or other - anxiety? When I thought about my projects; a kind of deeply rooted dread. Hard to explain. However, after the EFT tapping session, that dread pretty much disappeared.
An amplification of felt experience
Now here's something I did not expect. For the past few years now, I've had an increasingly difficult time "feeling" the world around me, in a perceptual sense. Sure, I could see and hear and physically touch the world around me, and even get an intellectual or emotional response out of it, but the point where those sensations and my own consciousness meet, it was as though there were a film of cellophane in the way... It's hard to describe. Dissociation may be a better term.
Now, it's not quite like that anymore. I can look at the world around me and actually feel what it is I'm experiencing!
An increase in vividness of Imagination
For a long while now, I've noticed that my Imagination hasn't been nearly as vivid and alive as it once was.
Before, my inner world pulsated and brimmed with life, populated with weird and wonderful imagery, and served as the fertile womb for all my creative works. I could dip an otherwise simple idea into it and out would come a novel creative concept.
After a while, that vividness began to fade. It was still there, of course, but a lot more inert than before. It took a lot of energy to get it running on all cylinders again, and I found myself relying more and more on doses of THC to kick start it back into gear. Needless to say, this made coming up with creative ideas a whole lot harder.
Now, after the EFT session, it's back in full force. I can put on some music, close my eyes, decide on a vague prompt to realize, and merely sit back and watch as my Imagination shows me something really cool. It's almost like watching a movie sometimes!
I just wanted to share this with you all, because it's something that's affected me for such a long time now, something for which I had no answer to, up until now. And I know this kind of creative decision paralysis has to affect others as well, so here's a potential solution - it helped me, maybe it can help you, too!
Anyway, as always, take Care!