Creativity is a Renewable Resource

June 22, 2021

I often think of my ideas like crude stones put into a rock tumbler. They start out as rough, jagged and ugly, but given enough time rolling around in my brain, they can become polished, beautiful – maybe even valuable. Maybe even something other people would like to see themselves. 

The ideas grind against other ideas, against shopping lists, against daily schedules, against the growing lists of pros and cons, their pitted surfaces and edges getting closer and closer to the shiny refined stones I know they can be. The only problem is that I can find myself afraid to commit, to open the door and check on the status of these rough ideas to see if they are worth my creative energy. Sometimes I’ll even make little quick sketches without fully committing to execute a concept.

I consider myself a bit of an idealist when it comes to the ideas in my head becoming a reality. In my imagination I get brief glimpses of what could be, what challenges might arise, and how the finished version should look. I know that the execution of these ideas can transform the results of the final product. Little bits of the idea will get altered along the way, and sometimes it doesn’t end up exactly like I thought it would – for better or for worse. 

Due to the fear of disappointing myself, I tend to procrastinate on actually trying a lot of my better ideas until I get the problems solved in my mind – until the rough stones are polished. But WHY don’t I just TRY it? If I get truly honest with myself, I can admit that I am afraid of using my creative energy on something that might not work. I am afraid that creativity is a limited resource. 

BUT IT’S NOT. 

Maya Angelou sums it all up in this wonderful quote, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

If you’re not going into the studio (writing room, lab, the quiltatorium, wherever you create) often enough and putting your ideas out into the real world, it can be easy to think that each idea you have is a precious stone. You might think that it needs to be tucked away, rolling in the safe darkness of your mind until it’s fully formed before seeing the light of day. 

Not all ideas are precious. It’s a hard lesson to learn as a creative. Not to be insulting, but some of what you consider your greatest ideas are redundant – have been done thousands of times before (mine too). However, some idea that you’ve not really considered releasing into the wild, could be the very idea that sets you apart from the rest – that defines your career as an artist. It’s hard to know what ideas are good or bad until you try them. 

Consider your studio a safe space for wild ideas. You can conjure up anything you like. No one has to see it. Take a wild idea, pair it with another and see what happens. Once you learn that not all ideas are precious, you release yourself from the subconscious burden of responsibility of creating absolute perfection every time you create a new work of art. No one can 100% create a masterpiece every time they put brush to canvas – even though we like to imagine that we can. Some pieces are complete duds, and that’s alright. However, even making art that ends up on the cutting room floor provides a learning experience. The ideas that you tried and failed with one artwork might find a home in your next work. No one gets any worse at art by making more art. The studio is much like an exercise room. You go in, you work out, you get stronger.  In the same way one can’t get in shape by imagining going to the gym, you can’t sharpen your creative skills, ideas, and focus without committing some time actually creating.

Don’t be concerned with running out of creativity. As long as people have been on the earth, there have been new ideas. When it seems like we’ve run out of ideas, someone finds a way to spin an old idea into a new one which leads to more ideas.

So, take those rough, jagged ideas out of the rock tumbler. It’s time to see them shine!