by Maggie Brito, PhD
When I attend to the Ding! at the time it Dings! I become absorbed in the layered, complex type of creative idea it tends to be.
Sometimes when I’m working an idea would pop into my awareness and kind of hover, as if it’s waiting for me to pick it like fruit from a tree. Ideas like these are fully formed, complete and finely detailed, and I’m usually excited by their unexpected appearance. Thing is, there are loads of other ideas in my mind already, and to attend to this new one means I have to take time away from the others I’m already attending to.
These new ideas come with a little “Ding!”, that is, a kind of alert that lets me know they’ve arrived. They tend to pop into my mind and go “Ding!” despite the fact that a lot of other ideas are already there, lined up in a mental queue, awaiting their turn to be attended to – essential tasks like emails to be answered, writing to be done for clients, content to compose for Facebook and Twitter, online meetings to attend, articles to be read – all these are the legitimate mental activities in which I engage during the course of any working day and then along comes this unscheduled “Ding!”
So what do I do? I have to make a decision: either attend to the unruly Ding! or put a pin in it and keep focused on the well-behaved, orderly, scheduled mental tasks I’ve lined up for the day. I have done both at various times, and have found that each choice brings a different result.
When I attend to the Ding! at the time it Dings! I become absorbed in the layered, complex type of creative idea it tends to be. I always enjoy the exploration of these ideas, because they seem to hook nicely into the higher-level layers of thinking I enjoy so much as a creative writer, such as metaphor, critical thinking, logic, all wrapped up in a kind of imaginative play as I give form to the idea.
The Ding! is usually creative, and some part of it is totally original; if not the idea itself, then some aspect of its execution. The reason I get excited when the Ding! arrives is because it signals a period when I can be completely authentic in my writing. And I just love how the Ding! rolls itself out in an auditory way, snuggling up among my regular thoughts, but possessing enough of its own bright quality as to be distinguished as its own peculiar kind of thought. I don’t hear it with my ears; it’s more an “inner” hearing. And though I can “see” the Ding! it’s with my inner vision. You know? The Ding! is kind of mystical, though entirely practical. It’s one of the inexplicable technologies with which humans are endowed.
The Dinged! idea usually invites extended exploration, and while I enjoy it, I also feel I’m doing it at the expense of other pressing tasks I’ve put on hold, all of which have tight deadlines. There was actually a time I felt that the time I spent doing intensely creative work on the Ding! was “stolen” time, and so creative work became a kind of guilty, clandestine pleasure that was even more enjoyable because I felt I was doing it in stolen time. However, the creative work always turned out to have its own rewards, and not just enjoyment and emotional release, but it also benefited my career for a long time to come.
If I decide not to tune into the Ding! I find that by the time I do get around to it the bright, sharp quality it had when it first Dinged! had faded a bit. I liken this to the difference between picking a fruit at the point of ripeness and enjoying all that goodness right there, and letting the fruit sit for a while. Anyone who has picked a ripe mango or apple or strawberry and eaten it right there and then would know what I’m talking about. I’m from the Caribbean, and we do this all the time – pick a ripe fruit from a branch and eat it while it’s warm and filled with sunshine. When you eat the fruit after its finest moment has passed – maybe after letting it sit in the fridge for a bit – it’s still good, but not as good as before. Not only that, the emotional “skin” of this creative fruit, that part of the fruit that makes it enticing and irresistible (and where a lot of its substance happens to be) has faded a little, and some of the intricately filigreed details of the idea have gone as well.
Other times, when I finally decide to turn my attention to a neglected Ding! I find that it has dissipated entirely, like a burst bubble.
This doesn’t mean not attending to a Ding! when it Dings! is bad. There’re good reasons for putting a pin in a Ding! Both choices are valid, however, not responding to the creative Ding! delays my entry into my vision, for though the arrival of the Ding! is unscheduled, it’s not unsolicited. It’s a response to an idea I’ve been mulling over for some time and which I had de-accelerated to idle mode while I dealt with other things. The Ding! would pop into my awareness after being formed in the silent unknown on my unconscious.
Lately, however, I have been tending more and more to receive the Ding! no matter when it shows up.