On Melting

MCMSaturday, July 20, 2013

Last week, I wrote three whole posts, announcing and then illustrating that I was not dead. And then the temperatures shot up for six days straight, and I believe I actually died, at least in a functional sense. But while I was dead, I had lots of time to think about important creative issues, the topmost on the list being finishing what you started.

I am not tremendously good at this. On my list of things to finish are (in no particular order) Polarity, The Archivists, Fission Chips and the Scarlet Lemming, The New Real 1 & 2, and one other project which shall not be named. Some of those are just quick fix-ups, some are heavy rewrites, and none are going to happen this year, I think. Unless the temperature drops for an extended period of time.

What causes this creative attention deficit disorder? It's painfully simple: creativity melts.

Every project you start is an ice cube. At the start, you've got a big-ass ice cube, perfectly square, and it cools the room around it, just by existing. That's the project you have in your mind, the one that makes you want to get out of bed and start doing things. When people ask "What are you working on?" you think of that, even if there are a dozen other things further along.

But what happens is the ice starts melting, and almost immediately. You write your first paragraph, and you think it could be better — the edges round a bit on the cube. You finish a chapter and wonder if you picked the right starting point — there's the tiniest of puddles around the ice. You realize you are writing yourself into a place where your Big Twist can't happen the way you wanted — and the cracks appear.

In no time at all, you're looking at something that feels like an inferior copy of what you were working at. You realize you're never going to live up to your own expectations, and it makes you pause, step back, and think of other options.

Some people react by sticking the ice cube in the freezer, vowing to come back to it when the time is right. Some people excel at scheduling a slice of time every day to take the ice cube out, work away at it, and then put it back before too much damage can be done. Some people climb inside the freezer with it, and work until their hands go numb. This often requires strong coffee and/or alcohol.

But no matter which method you employ, the ice cube is going to look different than you intended. And if you're not careful, it will eventually pass the Meh Threshold, whereupon it will not seem worth the effort anymore. All you'll see is the melting of the ice, and the sorry state of your creation.

This is the ultimate danger. Once you reach this stage, it is far too easy to put the ice cube back in the freezer and not touch it ever again. Better to save it than let it melt away forever.

I do this a lot. Worse yet, I have ice cubes in pairs: the sorry state, and a perfect cube that never leaves the cold, both telling the same story. All I need to do is find a way to transfuse the essence of one into the other and... and...

Creativity melts if you're not careful. So the question is: how do you keep your ideas from melting?

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