As a creative person, I find an abundance of inspiration in every nook and cranny of life. I call these instances of inspiration my “muses”, a word originating from Greek and Roman mythology where each of the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne presides over the arts and sciences.
The muse for a creative can serve as a wellspring from which all manner of inspiration pours, fueling the engine of creativity. My career as a web developer was made possible by this very engine, starting with only a moment of serendipitous inspiration while discovering programming at an early age. I wasn’t aware at the time that I was fostering a skillset that would serve as the backbone for my career; I was simply inspired to learn and create.
The muse can also be an albatross, adding undue weight to the creative’s shoulders who fails to harness its potential for creative output. I’m familiar with carrying such weight, having most of my creative endeavors amount to little more than a collection of dust. It’s a weight that, perhaps needlessly, reinforces many negative feelings in my life.
Inspiration gone stagnant
I’ve become more aware of my relationship with my muses as I attempt to engage with a muse of the past, one that caught my attention so feverishly that my imagination ran wild at the realm of endless possibilities that lie ahead once I begin pursuing it. Well, should I begin pursuing it.
What sparked my inspiration was Roam Research, a writing tool for networked thought. Roam has drastically changed my approach towards writing, thinking, and learning. I wanted to share my excitement with the world by writing about what Roam has allowed me to do and how others can use it in their own lives.
I’ve captured over 50 ideas for potential articles I could write to date, but I’ve yet to publish one. It’s been roughly eight months since my initial stroke of inspiration.
I reach for one of the many writing prompts that I’ve captured, determined to make progress on it. While I sit at my desk, I notice my inability to put pen to paper, to breathe life into what feels like a lifeless idea, and summon the creative forces necessary to do any more than contemplate how I might do something, rather than actually do it. I stop, push my desire to engage with this idea to the back of my mind, and find something else to do.
Noticing and questioning the pattern
I’m intimately familiar with this experience, discovering something so inspiring that I want to drop everything to do it, only to fall into a pattern of procrastination that leads to eventual disinterest.
With more muses left behind than exes , I have a pattern for handling our separation gracefully. I forgo reflecting on the creative impotence that ails me, and after giving me and my muse “space” to rekindle our relationship, I decide to call it quits. Neither of us is right or wrong; we simply aren’t meant to be. Although, I must admit that many of these things happen implicitly, placing me in the position of “ghosting” my muse, who certainly deserves more than half-hearted rationalizations about why we’re breaking up.
I deserve more than half-hearted rationalizations about why I don't engage with what inspires me.
This relationship between myself and my muses is a pattern, a feedback loop that has so ingrained itself into my psyche that noticing its existence is difficult. Doubt overcomes me as I question whether things have to be this way.
- What muses have I experienced in my life?
- Which muses have I engaged with the most?
- Which of these have I found most rewarding or satisfying?
- Which muses have I engaged with the least?
- Are these muses things I actually wanted to engage with or did I mindlessly latch onto these whims while riding a creative high?
- Do I still want to engage with any of these muses?
- How do I feel as I think about my past muses?
- What commonalities exist between the muses I’ve engaged with and those I haven’t?
I ask myself questions and dig deeper into my past relationships with my muses. I notice a trend occurring, one that shines a light on a likely culprit for my creative misfires over the years, and that culprit is planning.
Planning as procrastination
Planning, and the actions that arise from it, are a godsend for some, stacking the proverbial cards such that the impossible becomes possible, and helping one accomplish what they set out to do. Planning can work. Hell, it works for me all the time with my client projects.
For others, planning yields little more than perpetual uncertainty and a misguided feeling of accomplishment. When will I begin writing? As soon as I’m “organized enough” to begin, rather than simply writing. This is planning over doing; planning as procrastination.
Thus, I’ve found myself standing beneath a light shining on my primary mode of procrastination, guiding my actions towards planning instead of doing. I’ve created no shortage of projects, to-do lists, systems, strategies, plans, timelines, commitments, and goals that are all designed to get me from point A to point B, from idea to creation. Where, then, are my creations?
Planning is a solution to a problem encountered by doing something.
Planning as a form of procrastination inhibits my ability to engage in acts of creativity that are engaging and rewarding. Planning is no substitute for doing. To plan is to anticipate, while to do is to create. The former does not preclude the latter, but I’m no longer going to allow planning to impede my creative process.
Identifying my primary mode of procrastination has been revealing, but understanding how I procrastinate doesn’t mean I won’t continue doing it. I need to turn my insight into action and chart a path towards creative liberty.
My new approach is to create first, plan later. I will no longer allow planning to impede my creative process. I will create when I feel inspired to create and plan only when systematic approaches towards solving problems or accomplishing tasks make sense. I will no longer rely on planning to put the wind beneath my creative wings.
The benefit of “create first, plan later” is that it helps me jump the first creative hurdle, one that I often don’t jump, which is creating the first iteration of whatever I’m inspired to create. This will satiate my immediate creative desires and give me something to work with going forward, something I can iterate from and improve, perhaps to the point where I feel comfortable releasing it to the public.
While many muses lie in my past, buried beneath the remnants of planning, many more lie ahead. Thankfully, I have had no shortage of muses throughout my life. There will always be something new. The question is, will I engage with it, and if so, how?
What’s the relationship between you and your muses?