The Currency of the Creative Mind

I have a lot of ideas and sometimes I take it for granted. It’s the currency of the creative – our ideas, and our imagination. It’s what we pride ourselves on. It’s what sets us apart – the fact that we can have so many ideas floating around in our heads. That’s what makes us creative.

Right?

And I realize that not everyone has trained their brain as I have to create and capture new ideas. For some, those ideas that they are passionate about are few and precious. They’re overwhelmed with their busy lives and don’t have the same luxury that I have. I’ve heard it said many times before.

“You have so many cool ideas. It’s because you’re so creative.”

Of course, I don’t think coming up with ideas is something exclusive to the ‘creative person’. I think anyone can be creative. What matters is opening yourself up to those ideas. You have to work at it.

But here’s the tea: ideas are cheap.

It’s the execution of those ideas that really matter. It’s the difference between talking about doing something and actually doing it. Talk is cheap. Actions are what matter.

Everyone can imagine their ideal life. But not everyone has the courage to work for it.

If you’re wondering where this post is coming from, I spoke with a friend recently who mentioned they were afraid of sharing their ideas in case someone stole them. And it was something that I dealt with for a long time as well. But I think sometimes we treat our ideas as more than they are.

When I first got into writing, I was eager but I was also afraid that if I shared what I was working on and all the ideas I was so excited about, someone would take them. I wasn’t a fast writer, and I was really indecisive (jokes on me ’cause I still am). I worried that someone would be itching for an idea, happen to see mine, and write the story faster (and better) than I could. It was a thought that filled me with sadness and anxiety. I didn’t want someone to steal my ideas, ill-intentioned or not.

So, I kept them close – they were precious treasures that I wanted to hoard until I polished them to a point where I was ready to share them with the world.

But then time passed, and that idea that I worked so hard on began to change. I saw flaws and worked to fix them, and slowly it became something else. I’d learned so much and I was reading more broadly and exposed myself to different types of storytelling, and I saw my idea for what it was – a mutable, impermeable thing. Because that’s all an idea is – the possibility of something. It’s a starting point, and it’s up to me to make it work.

I spent years fussing over my story ideas when I could have been using that time to actually write. I never shared any part of it because I didn’t want anyone to steal them. At the same time, I didn’t feel it was perfect, so I kept working at it. Filling in those character sheets, rewriting that outline, brainstorming the plotlines – it was an easy way of distracting myself from the fact that I wasn’t doing the writing. It was easier to run away from it than it was to face the fact that my idea might not be as good as I hoped, or my draft not as polished as I wanted it to be.

It has taken years for me to grapple with these bad habits, and I know it’s something others deal with as well. We get so obsessed and focused on an idea – we believe it to be original and unique and we keep it close. We worry about not being able to do it justice – to do it ‘perfectly’, which is ridiculous, but the thought still paralyzes you. You obsess over the idea but never finish it. Only working at it over and over again, and eventually, it becomes something else entirely. Or you lose interest in it altogether.

Originality is an interesting concept. When we think of originality we usually apply it to the uniqueness of an idea, and it has to be something that has ‘never been done before’.

But when people say everything has been done already, they’re right. To be ‘original’ doesn’t mean you have to come up with some idea that has never been done before. That’s a pipe dream. It doesn’t exist.

It’s the application of those ideas that make something original. A twist on an old tale only you could think of. A rendering that has never been done before, because it was made by you, and everything in your unique life affects how it comes to be.

It was foolish of me to worry about my ideas being stolen because they were never my ideas at all. They had already been done, by someone, somewhere, but what was unique was how I was going to write them. And if someone else did decide to write the same, the end result would have been radically different. It wouldn’t be my story.

If you asked ten different authors to write a story about a boy wizard who goes to a magical school, you would have ten very different stories.

I started reading a book this month that really brought this idea home – Starflight by Melissa Landers. It’s a YA space opera about a girl with a criminal past and her affluent former classmate ending up on a less than savoury spaceship with a charismatic and memorable crew, both trying to escape their past and finding a new family along the way. Sounds like a fun read, right?

The first novel I ever finished back in 2013 had a premise that sounded much the same. It, like Starflight, was a YA space opera about a girl with strange powers and a shady past teaming up with the wealthy heir of a megacorporation as they travelled through the galaxy with a band of space pirates. The ideas are alarmingly similar, and I know the girl who wrote that story back in 2013 would have been devastated by the fact that someone else had ‘done it first’. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the reason this book intrigued me so much was because of how similar it was to my own story.

I put my heart into that novel, but I can see that despite the similarities, they’re not the same story. Far from it. The concepts overlap, but our execution is different. The way I chose to tell it, to develop my characters and explore those found family themes is unique to me. I learned so much writing that story, despite its flaws. The idea wasn’t what mattered. It was the story I finally told with it.

That is what’s important – the act of writing the thing. The creating. I realize I’m really focusing on novel-writing, but it can apply to anything. These days we are doused in content – people are creating everywhere, constantly. Novels. Art. Music. Videos. Blog posts. Podcasts.

Don’t be precious with your ideas. Just let them fuel you – inspire you to do the work. Don’t let them hold you back. Don’t be fearful of others stealing them, because they have their own to keep them going. Don’t get hung up on trying to be ‘perfect’ or ‘original’.

No matter what you make, it’ll be original, because it could only have been made by you.

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