Helping Creative People Create

Why Does the Fire Have to Die?

why does the creative fire have to die?
Earlier this year I had a great idea for a web application.

I mapped out potential site features, sketched out a design, and started researching how to put the thing together.

I was completely immersed in the flow of creating. The idea was fresh, new, and exciting, and I loved every minute I had working on it.

But then after a few months, the idea hit a stage where it turned into a grind. I loved the idea still, but I didn’t love working on it.

The fire behind the idea had officially died.

***

There are going to be days when inspiration fades. Ideas are sexy in the beginning, but over time developing them can become a grind. And as if some unknown source is trying to lure me away from the original idea, another “better” idea will pop into my head.

It can be draining to develop an idea from start to finish. Most people don’t understand that ideas truly become a labor of love after a certain point. Finishing isn’t a goal; it’s a quest.

Yet there’s a little trick to learning how to stay motivated with ideas: Do your best work.

For whatever reason, when we’re creating to our full potential, work suddenly becomes an energizing process. Instead of draining us, work becomes satisfying. It fills you up as you exert your energy toward it.

In elementary school, I remember teachers constantly rewarding us for taking the extra time and doing better work as opposed to rushing to finish. (I wonder if they still teach that in the schools?) Now the “real world” teaches us that deadlines matter, praising speed and efficiency. It’s no wonder that people quickly burn out of their jobs over the years when they’re forced to meet a deadline, not create incredible things.

The fire never has to die if we’re doing our best work. Instead of blazing for a short period and dying, we can create at a steady, clean smolder. We have to value quality over quantity.

That’s how the real masters crank out masterpieces in a steady cycle. They’ve learned how to take joy in what they do by creating at their full potential, and doing it every day.

Photo by Gustavius

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Alex August 31, 2010 at 8:15 am

It’s called a dip and if your like alot of people, myself included, you hit the dip and this can last a month to a year or longer. If find you don’t have inspiration to carry on with the project you flat-line until someone or something puts a beat into your inspiration that you originally had.

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glen August 31, 2010 at 8:20 am

I just finished reading The Dip a while back.. excellent book. In fact, it’s one of my favorites because it was so condensed.

Anyway, I think this is partially the dip, but also partially learning how to create in a more sustainable way (at least for me). Routines, etc. also help.

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Rob Oakes August 31, 2010 at 12:12 pm

I think that it’s partially the dip, but also it’s simply fatigue. Whenever you work on any large project (potentially demanding months or even years worth of time), you can get tired of it. To use a horse training term (I once posed as a cowboy), this is called overexposure. It happens when you’ve exhausted either your mental or physical faculties and need time away to recuperate.

For the past year, I’ve been working on a book about scientific and professional communication and the tools used to exchange ideas. (So, this is a shameless plug, but for an example of the type of stuff I hope to cover, see http://blog.oak-tree.us/index.php/2010/08/26/evidence-mind).

It’s been a very fun project to work on and I’ve really enjoyed it.

But it’s also been much more work than initially expected. Researching the historical examples, getting permission to images (I never quite realized how much work can go into compiling the artwork of others for print), creating new illustrations and writing the text has been hugely draining.

Though I’m passionate about the project, sometimes “I lose the fire” (to steal your terminology). I’m also doing it in my spare time, which doesn’t necessarily help. I might come home from work, and though I was really motivated, I just don’t want to open up the computer (or sit down at the sketchbook if doing art). I’d much rather read or write for the blog, or watch TV.

But, if I lay off of it for a while, the desire to continue returns. I find additional motivation (for example, I recently came across an article on Leonardo Da Vinci’s optical studies) and decide to pick up the project where I left off.

Given time (a day off here or a day off there, never more than a week), I even have the same level of motivation I felt when writing the proposal. It’s a good project and it’s worthwhile, and it’s something that seems to interest other people.

I think this is different from the Dip, which I’ve heard referred to as the “vast wasteland of the middle.” To make it out of a true Dip (if I understands Godin’s point, which might hard since I haven’t read the book) seems to involve perseverance and progress, or, as Alex notes, some external force that helps you right yourself.

What you describe, though (and what I’m referring to) is much more like fatigue. And in my case, it comes from unsustainable exertion. When I get my life righted again, productivity falls back into place.

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glen August 31, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Excellent thoughts Rob. I agree, I’m describing more of fatigue or good ‘ol fashioned “burnout”.

Shameless plug accepted! The project looks great… let us know when it’s done.

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Michelle Adams August 31, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Create at a steady, clean smoulder…I like that a lot. Only recently I took the pedal off the metal on a few projects and they are all of a sudden so much easier to work on, it’s enjoyable. No hasty deadlines as if there is someone rushing me to get it done…why do that to ourselves when we don’t have to. Having worked in a corporate environment for 15 years, it’s only now that I realise offline that it’s ok to create a little bit of brilliance everyday versus just get things done fast!

Neat post.

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GFXBD September 2, 2010 at 11:13 am

Great article. It contains lots of educational information. I like reading article on new stuff and knowledge. So that I enjoyed reading your article. Your contents are rich in subjects. Keep up the good work.

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Chris September 6, 2010 at 5:18 am

Good article. I like this stuff!!! its helping me :-)

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Trinity September 14, 2010 at 11:05 pm

I had experiences like this and it so true that in order to keep the fire burning, have an inspiration and do your best.

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