What to do when you are overwhelmed with ideas

I was writing a ‘who done it’. I had my setting. I had my lead character, victims, multiple suspects and motives coming out of my ears. But how was I going to choose who done it?

I love the early stages of creating something new when you get lost in your imagination. When bursts of inspiration come to you while you’re walking along, ideas tumbling into your head as you shower. It’s exciting, full of possibility, a rich seam ripe for picking.

But sometimes it’s a bit much and you just want to work out who done it. That’s what it was like for me with my play. I was stuck in that initial brainstorm phase. How was I going to decide how to progress as all the different ideas jostled for my attention?

If you’re suffering from creative block at the moment you don’t need to hear this right now. Check out what to do when you have no creative ideas then come back later when you’re brimming with ideas. And don’t worry it will happen, it inevitably always does.

So I’m going to say it, too many ideas can be just as debilitating as no idea.

Suffering from too many options can be something you do in secret because it can feel conceited and lead to reactions like ‘what a great problem to have’ accompanied by a smile through gritted teeth. It’s the last thing someone wants to hear when they’re suffering from the opposite. But it’s just as much of a problem as having a creative draught if it’s hindering you from making your ideas a reality.

Because that can happen, too many ideas can be overwhelming. Sometimes it can feel like you’re too creative, all airy fairy light bulb moments and no practical action. Which idea should you pick? How can you concentrate on just one when there are so many sparkly new ones popping up like fireworks? How do you get the ideas out of your head and onto the page, potters wheel, canvas or somewhere else?

So that was me with my ‘who done it’. Too many ideas, no structure and no idea how to choose which plot threads to follow. I’m impatient and I wanted to skip forward to having that polished script in my hand but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.

Can you actually be too creative? I don’t think so, I’m grateful for any and every idea I get. You can be too unfocussed though. You can get lost in the brainstorm phase and let’s face it that’s a nice and cosy place to be. Plus it’s scary to actually produce stuff, to put it out there for others to see and pass judgement on.

And you know I put off getting on with my play, hoping I’d get a burst of inspiration which would give me the name of my murderer and all the red herrings along the way. But eventually the pull of wanting to know what happens in the story got to me and I sat down with my spider diagrams and scribbles to figure it out and here’s what I learned (not for the first time, but I think it’s finally starting to stick).

  • You won’t know and you don’t need to know how it’s going to pan out before you start. Just make a commitment to sit down and start.
  • You need to get organised. Spider diagrams, backs of envelopes, wherever those ideas are gather them together and start listing them out. Bullet points work for me to organise the ideas into a reasonable sequence. I get to see patterns I hadn’t noticed and a feel for which ones will and won’t work.
  • Don’t try to skip the bullet point stage. If you try and go straight to finished product you’ll likely trip yourself up. If you’re painting or sculpting rather than a list maybe do a few small studies. Then you can rearrange or chop them up till you find something you like. It’s better to spend more time at this stage than end up with a final result with holes in the plot.
  • Let it sit for a bit. Once you’ve organised your ideas and you can see a path forward you’ll probably be eager to get straight to work but give yourself some space. Come back to it a few hours or a day or two later and review, you might discover something you’d missed earlier in the excitement.
  • And whenever you feel overwhelmed stop and breathe. It’s amazing how focussing on your breath for a few moments can clear the brain fog.

So that’s how I’m organising my ideas, what about you? Maybe try this out if you’re struggling and let me know how you get on. If you’re still stuck and would like some help uncovering what the problem is get in touch rachel@rachelgoth.com