Creative Momentum

My first ideas are usually terrible.

My next ideas are a little bit less terrible, but still not great. Worse still, it takes me a relatively long time to develop those first not-great ideas. But those first attempts aren’t a waste of time, because the process of working through bad ideas is what makes good ideas possible.

The process of working through bad ideas is what makes good ideas possible.

It’s a common experience for anyone doing creative work, and I imagine that the same is true in a lot of professions. Friends who are writers tell me that the first few paragraphs, or even the first few pages of a project, are sometimes painfully slow and that the early ideas are often difficult, stunted half-starts. Much of the early material gets thrown out along the way, but those initial faltering steps are the only way to get to the finished product.

”Sing in me, O Muse…”

Once the creative momentum has started, the work flows more easily and naturally. It can feel like the ideas have a life of their own. It’s easy to see how the Greeks spoke of the Muses–how it seemed to them that their ideas were coming, fully formed, from some outside source. Homer starts the Odyssey by saying, “Sing in me, O Muse–through me tell the story…” We get caught up by the momentum of the work and it carries us along almost effortlessly.

Part of the creative process

My sketchbook is full of abandoned layout concepts, half-finished logo ideas, and doodles and scribbles that will never be seen by the client. But most of my finished projects can be traced back to one of those sketches. They weren’t the product of wasted time or effort–they were a part of the process, and an indispensable step along the way. The only way to get to the good ideas is to work through the bad ones.