If you thought your cupboards were full of faded dreams, just take a look at your old hard drives...
Last time I wrote a Sounding Off, I talked about all the 'stuff' I'd accumulated, and the painful task of going through each item when moving out (/sos/aug11/articles/sounding-off-0811.htm). It's a job that was rewarded with the realisation that I'm never going to delve into any of those hobbies, instruments, books or practice routines ever again. I left the piece on an optimistic note: the time to deal with things is in that initial moment of inspiration, when your enthusiasm is pumping and you're already motivated.
This time, I'm inspired to talk about how this scenario can play out with the immaterial and digital aspects of creative endeavours just as easily as it does with material possessions.
Shortly after the apartment move that inspired the sorting, I suffered a massive hard‑drive crash. Almost everything was backed up in an alternate place, so I was fortunate not to lose too much, but while restoring my sample libraries and projects, I had to take some old hard drives out of years of storage.
When I hooked them up and started browsing through the files, I had the same feeling I did when going through my physical junk. There was a huge list of pop songs, grooves, scores, story ideas, snippets of my imaginary stand‑up career and so on, none of which I had ever completed. Each title reminded me of why I stopped working on the project, and while some excuses were valid, others were less convincing.
In each of these projects there was a nugget or two of salvageable quality that could be the start of something new, but I refer back to the Annie Dillard quote in my first piece: "you open your safe and find ashes.” To me, this means that when you go back to things, especially old ideas and unfinished songs, their relationship to you and their temporal context has changed so much that their value depreciates to virtually nothing.
Files on a drive are hard proof of an attempt at a creative effort, but what about all the ideas that go undocumented? These seeds of inspiration float around our minds hoping to be sown, to grow into something of artistic value. If you don't pick one out and plant it, the idea just floats away without you even knowing it was there. If you do snatch one out of your stream of your consciousness but you hesitate to nurture it, the idea fades away again.
If you adopt the way of thinking that I have, you can end up feeling overwhelmed. You find inspiration in the form of a raw idea and you want to see it through: it could be a melody or an entire orchestral opus, a great novel or a concept for a 'Sounding Off' piece. Whatever it is, get it done now before it becomes a nagging chore weighing on your mind, something that you may come back to or you may not. You may be motivated to create it or you may not be. Either way, do it now and do it fantastically.
This puts a lot of pressure on you! Besides the notion that you're killing potential masterpieces by not taking action immediately, where are you going to get all this extra time? Indulging every creative impulse could end up taking over your life. But isn't that exactly what you want?
In reality, the more you explore your creative impulses the more efficient you become, and the better technician or craftsman you'll develop into. In short, you get better at getting better. I think busy people don't merely get more things done because they're busy, I think they produce complete products at a higher rate. It's like the way busy restaurants usually have better food than slow places. They have a rhythm going. Slow restaurants have to start from nothing every time an order comes in. And who knows how long that chicken has been sitting there?
I still let great ideas go, though. I figure the idea will either come back at another time if it's good enough, or if it doesn't there's another good idea coming right behind it. I don't put an idea on a to‑do list or leave it on a hard drive, I either get to work on it or let it go. I find it too painful to come back to a reminder that you had a great idea and let it die!
David Ricard is an Emmy-nominated TV and Film composer living and becoming inspired in Los Angeles.