Sometimes you can’t get a creative idea to come. You dry up. There’s nothing, except the gnawing frustration of not being able to bring something new and interesting to mind, so that you can work on it. Other times, the opposite problem occurs. You get a flood of ideas, influences and inspirations. The flood can overpower you and leave you feeling helpless.
Right now, I’m buried under a mountain of things I feel a massive, urgent need to articulate, through my music, painting and writing, but each idea is only half formed and indistinct. I feel the need to spend time clarifying each one, defining it in my own mind, so that I can give it life as an artistic work and articulate the whole body of work, as a coherent, holistic entity, with clarity and lucidity. There are so many pent up thoughts, emotions, impressions, reminiscences and feelings, but they are all backed up, like some giant log jam. The damn is filled to bursting, but the floodgates won’t open. It feels like pain.
I don’t know if being bereft of an idea is worse than having way too many ideas competing to come out, all at once. Both situations cause discomfort, but of a very different kind to each other. In the first case, you feel like you might be spent and that no new idea will ever again occur to you. It’s a numb and empty feeling; hollow and hungry.
On the other hand, being in a state of mental turmoil, overflowing with ideas, subject matter and things you need to say out loud is a little like the feeling of knowing every answer at school, but never being asked by the teacher to give your answer. It’s an intensely frustrating feeling. It feels unjust. It feels constricted and constrained. You feel less than free.
The other overwhelming feeling about having too many ideas to realise, all of which are screaming to be heard inside your head, is that you face your own mortal limitations. A quick mental calculation of what it will take to realise all of the ideas, even in draft or sketch form, can yield a daunting amount of time and effort. It’s an exhausting notion. How can you get it all down, before the ideas evaporate and you forget them? The thought of actually dying, or losing your artistic, creative faculties, before you get the ideas out is also an uncomfortable thought.
What I do, at times like this, is take scant notes. I try to capture the germ of each idea, so that I can at least re-evaluate it later and decide whether or not it needs to be realised as an art work. I have so many sketches and half-formed works. I guess every artist does. Funny how whenever I am stuck for an idea, though, I usually try to reach for a brand new idea, rather than working on one of the half finished old ideas, bringing it to completion. There’s something about the moment that the idea actually occurs to you that makes it so compelling. Coming back to an older idea and trying to re-warm it is harder. The pain of the subject matter is not so acute, so you are not so driven to find relief. The pain of remembering it, however, is, so that even getting started again on the idea is hard. It’s an odd, inexplicable, illogical paradox.
I might be alone in this, but somehow the right feeling, for me, is neither too many ideas at once, nor too few. I need the flow to miraculously match my rate of creation. It’s almost unachievable, but every now and then you reach that happy circumstance, or at least I do.
So for now, I’ll make my notes, shelve them for later and write about how I feel about that, which is what I have just done. And now I feel a little better. But not much.