Creative Constipation

Web development is a creative game. It’s not all about neckbeards in their basement writing Matrix-style code on a black and green terminal in between sips of Mountain Dew and World of Warcraft binges (that is the stereotype these days, right?). Well, maybe it is but not for me and that’s not how I like to picture my fellow developers. Instead I picture folks just like me. Highly intelligent, active, motivated, and creative guys and girls solving problems and building stuff that other people just don’t think of. It’s not all maths and codez. It’s design, UX, engineering, and art. Unfortunately, the creative well is not infinitely deep and pumping too much juice too fast will leave you with creative constipation (I wonder how many more metaphors can I mix in a single sentence).

Cut the ADD and learn to prune

If you’re anything like me you’ve got a million ideas for projects you want to start. Projects are our way of staying sane, keeping sharp, and exercising the creative muscle in a way we might not always get to do in our day job. So you start about 20 projects and you’re excited about them all and then one day you’ve got way too many. You know some of them are just dead but you’ve bought the domain and created a landing page so you feel obligated to finish. Others you just get bored with but you still browse the code hoping inspiration will strike and you’ll suddenly be able to finish it.

This is when creative constipation hits. Creative constipation is what I like to describe as when too many ideas get all blocked up in the mental pipes and then none of them get through. It’s strange because everyone’s first instinct is that when you get a creative block there just aren’t any good ideas in there. But not with me. In my case creative constipation comes from being unable to focus on a single project because of having so many half baked ideas about multiple projects littering my mind.

The solution I’ve found actually comes from an article I read on 37Signals’ blog in a post on pruning. Pruning in the sense of clearing out things that are old and broken and making room for new things or existing ideas to flourish. If you’ve got too much to think about its very likely that in your quest to accomplish every one of those things you won’t be able to give enough focus to any one thing to do it well or even begin.

This is where pruning comes in. You organize, prioritize, and prune all of those thoughts that are all trying to get out at once and causing creative constipation. First I organize them. I determine where they fit in within the framework of my goals, interests, and how busy I am. Then I prioritize each. Finally, after doing a little organizing and prioritizing, it should be obvious which projects need pruning. Sometimes I’ll just cut off a project completely. Just delete the GitHub repo, let the domain expire, and delete the virtualhost entry from my server. Other times I’ll just need to make a small tweak or update to it. This satisfies my need to work on it and lets me leave it along for a long period of time. I feel like once I’ve given an older project just a little attention the nagging thoughts driving me nuts seem to fade away and then I can ignore it for a while. After a little pruning I’ve got a smaller, more focused set of projects that are manageable. Once this small group is identified its easy to carve out time for each and the creative constipation turns to creative flow – a situation where I can be focused and move through projects with ease. So when creative constipation hits you next, ask yourself if you’ve simply got too many projects going on at once and try a bit of pruning. I could mean the difference between creative constipation and creative flow.


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