Responding to the Creative Ding!

Sometimes when I’m working an idea would just pop into my mind and kind of hover as if it’s waiting for me to pick it like fruit from a tree. Ideas like these tend to be 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 just drop 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 with clients and colleagues, 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 (obviously, huh?) brings a different result.

When I attend to the Ding! at the time it Dings! I find 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 thinking and writing. And I just love how the Ding! rolls itself out in a kind of 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 of an “inner” hearing. And though I can “see” the idea, it’s more like inner vision. You know? The Dinged! idea is kind of mystical, though entirely practical. One of the inexplicable qualities 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 the other pressing tasks I’ve put on hold, all of which have tight deadlines. There was actually a time when I felt that the time I spent doing the intensely creative work that came as part of the Dinged! message was “stolen” time, and so creative work became a kind of clandestine activity. However, the creative work always turned out to have its own rewards, and not just interior, emotional enjoyment and 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. 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 nutrients happen 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 completely, like a burst bubble.

This doesn’t mean that not attending to a Dinged! idea 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, seemingly more important things.

Lately, however, I have been tending more and more to receive the Ding! no matter when it shows up.