The Idea Ambush


I’ve just been ambushed by another idea. Not the first time, and not (I hope) the last. Ideas are tricky that way. You can be busy working out the nuances of one idea, when bam! A second idea shoulders its way to the front of the line.

Great, right? Surely two ideas are better than one. And maybe if you put the two ideas together, they can form a third, and a fourth, and … eventually a muddled headache if they can’t be corralled.

It’s a matter of resources. Limited amount of time and enthusiasm. Other priorities intervene, like all those pesky necessities of life such as eating and sleeping. Other creative tasks clamber for attention, too. I write novels and the occasional short story, and I also sculpt polymer clay and make beaded jewelry. And draw. And make gemstone trees. And paint figurines. And… you get the picture.

So now I’ve come up with an idea for a webcomic. It’s an idea I’ve had before that I never fully developed, and now it’s resurfaced with lots more detail and quite possibly a viable way forward. I think I can make it work, with a lot of time and effort.

And that’s the problem with an idea ambush. When a new idea strikes and screams for your attention, how do you decide what to work on? Put the work for the old idea on hold and play with the shiny new idea, or make the new idea wait until all the tasks for the old idea are complete?

If I put the old idea on hold, I lose momentum toward finishing a project. Finishing is important. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has tons of unfinished stuff sitting about waiting for attention – unfinished stories to revise, unfinished craft projects that just need a few final touches. Sometimes I go into finishing mode and not start something new until I’ve cleared out some of the old.

If I make the new idea wait, I run the risk of losing enthusiasm. When I finally get around to playing with the new idea, I might not be as interested in it anymore. I’ve had that happen, too, and the idea is lost, or never is developed as well as it could be.

So how do I decide what to work on? I’ve never found a clearcut answer. Sometimes the new idea is just a distraction when what I need to do is plow forward and finish what I’m working on. Sometimes I need a break from the old, so the new idea acts as a palate cleanser. By working on something else for a while, I return to the old idea with fresh perspective. My general guideline is this: If the muse is shouting, listen. At the very least, I capture notes about whatever is currently firing my enthusiasm before that enthusiasm fades. Sometimes the new idea needs time to percolate before it can be fully developed, in which case I go back to the old and continue. Sometimes the new idea is fully formed, so I capture it before it can escape.

And sometimes I do a little of everything. In general, I like to focus on one project at a time, but sometimes I also like to work on projects in parallel. I can only devote so much attention to any given project in a single day, so having more than one project to work on helps. As today’s enthusiasm fades on one project, I can switch to another and still keep going.

The webcomic is going to take a lot of time and effort, therefore it’s going to be a long-term backup project while I finish my other works in progress. I need to hone my drawing skills, figure out how comics are put together, explore the new universe and characters, and oh yes, come up with a story. Lots of work, but it’s exciting. Next month is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), so I’m planning to use the time to write out the history of this new universe and figure out some stories to tell. I intend to use the thirty days and 50,000 words to decide whether this is going to be a viable idea to explore.

Wish me luck, and I wish you luck on whatever ideas ambush you!

On The Evolution Of Dragons: Introduction

The lineup of my evolution of dragon sculptures (and a friend of the family).  From left to right: Gargoyle, Orange Cat, Missing Link, Kangaroo, Big Guy, Prototype

The lineup of my evolution of dragon sculptures (and a friend of the family). From left to right: Gargoyle, Orange Cat, Missing Link, Kangaroo, Big Guy, Prototype

One of the axioms that has ruled my approach to learning anything new is that “It’s difficult to learn and look good at the same time.” It’s also pointless. If you’re worried about how you appear while you’re learning, then you’re splitting your attention. All that energy focused on worry would be better spent focused on whatever it is you’re trying to learn.

In my experience, one of the attributes of the best students is the willingness to make mistakes. To take a fall while daring greatly is no dishonor. And we’re not talking just any fall. A damn-the-torpedoes, full-steam-ahead face plant that the legendary slapstick comedians would envy. Falling does not mean failure. This time, you fell. So what? Measure your determination by the size of the crater you made, then try again. Aim for greatness, and don’t beat yourself up if you miss.

Every attempt to try something new contains one important element that must not be ignored: the element of hope. This attempt might be the one where everything clicks and you finally reach a goal. Or, perhaps more likely, this might be an attempt where a piece falls into place and the emerging picture becomes clearer. A rough draft of a story that reads as nonsense but contains a perfect turn of phrase. A drawing that’s barely above a scribble but contains one perfect image of a leaf hidden way in the corner. A sculpture that grins at you from its imperfections and gives you the boost to reach for the next level.

One of my teachers described learning as climbing a series of plateaus. At first, everything’s new. You struggle, you climb a bit as you start to master the skills, more struggle, more climbing, slip back, climb, climb, climb, until finally you reach a place where things make sense. A plateau where you’ve mastered a set of skills that allow you to produce something you’re proud of. So you hang out on the plateau for a while repeating your success until you grow tired of staying in the same place and begin looking upward eyeing the next plateau. Time to pull out your climbing boots and ready the rope.

And here is where dragons come into the picture (yes, I guessed you were wondering). When I first attempted to sculpt polymer clay, I began with cats. Cartoon-like cats, like the orange cat in the dragon lineup. Once I came up with a cat design that satisfied me, I needed something more challenging to stretch my skills. As a fantasy writer, the choice was obvious.


I’m on a quest for a better dragon design. Not a perfect design, I’m not going to fall into the perfection trap (again), but a better design than what I’ve come up with so far. At this point in time, I’ve come a long way on my quest and have reached several plateaus. Every type of dragon has taught me something new.

It’s counter-productive to worry about learning and looking good at the same time, so I’m not going to try. I plan to share some of the not-so-good-looking stages in my evolution of dragons in hopes that it’ll help someone else try something new.

Time to put on the climbing boots.

In the next blog post in this series: Plateau 1: The Gargoyle.


The Grand Reopening

Some transitions take longer than others.

Real Life derailed my initial plans for this blog, but I’m back now, hopefully with something interesting to say. To begin, here’s a random wonder. This was the view over my house at sunset on a day when I was facing many challenges. I’m taking it as a good omen. I give you a moment of beauty, peace, and hope:

Sunset Rainbow

Sunset Rainbow