There's a mental phenomenon that occurs sometimes when I'm working. An idea would just pop into my mind and kind of hover around in there as if it's waiting for me to pick it like fruit from a tree. These types of ideas are fully formed, complete and finely detailed, and I'm usually excited by their unexpected appearance. Thing is, there are usually lots of other ideas in my mind already, and to pick this new one means eating it, and I can only eat one idea at a time.
Furthermore, 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 neat mental queue, awaiting their turn to be attended to – tasks like emails to be answered, writing to be done for clients, stuff to compose to put on 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 particular 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 and 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 that it Dings! I find that 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 like metaphor, critical thinking and logic, all wrapped up in a kind of imaginative play as I work on the idea and give form to it. The Ding! is an idea for the beginning – or continuation – of a creative project, and some part of it is usually totally original; if not the idea itself, then some aspect of its execution. The reason I tend to be excited when I apprehend the Ding! is because it signals a period when I can be completely authentic in my thinking, and I just love how the Dinged! message rolls itself out in a kind of auditory way, bundling itself up among my regular thoughts, but possessing enough of its own bright quality as to be distinguished as its own peculiar kind of thought. And I don't actually hear it with my ears, it's more a “inner” hearing, and though I can “see” the idea, it's more like a vision. You know? The Dinged! idea is kind of mystical, though entirely practical. I think it's one of those inexplicable qualities with which humans are endowed.
The Dinged! idea usually invites careful exploration, and while I enjoy it, I also feel that I'm doing it at the expense of the other pressing tasks I've put on hold, all of which have tight deadlines. People are waiting for their articles. They're waiting for responses to emails they sent me. There was actually a time which I used to feel 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, something in which I guiltily engaged and wildly enjoyed. However, the creative work always turned out to have its own rewards, and not just just interior, emotional 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 it the bright, sharp quality it had when it first Dinged! had faded a bit (not completely, though), and I liken this to the difference between picking a fruit at the point of ripeness and eating all that goodness right there, and letting the fruit sit for a while. Anyone who has picked a ripe mango or apple, or strawberry from a branch and ate it on the spot would know what I'm talking about. I'm from the Caribbean, and we do this all the time back home. When you eat the fruit after its finest moment has passed – maybe after letting it sit in a deep freeze for a bit - it's still good, but it's not as good as it was 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 turn my attention to a neglected Ding! I find, to my disappointment, that it has disappeared completely.
This does not 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. But not responding to the creative Ding! when it comes delays my entry into the big space of my vision. For though the Ding appears in a kind of unscheduled way, it does not come unsolicited. It's a response (though untimely) to an idea I had been mulling over for a while and which I had deaccelerated into idle mode while I dealt with other things. It's a toss-up, really.