…we can approach idea-work with the workmanlike ethic of a bricklayer…

It takes time and effort to get to an idea. A good idea is nothing “new” in the strictest sense, but a novel combination of old things, and that can feel elusive, stubborn.

Idea-work requires a measure of patience. It can be a waiting game. But knowing that time is a factor, we may use time to our advantage.

Procrastination can be a technique. Strategic delay allows for incubation, which is thinking on the back-burner of your mind, your subconscious noodling at the problem while you attend to foreground matters.

This is parallel in concept to brainstorming, where you toss early ideas in pursuit of better ones. Except that, having fed your subconscious with stuff to work on, you stop actively straining at it. You go to work on other stuff, trusting that there’s a brainstorm session ongoing in some back-office of your brain.

There is more than one approach to creativity and these form a continuum: On the one end, we can approach idea-work with the workmanlike ethic of a bricklayer, the one who shows up at 6am with the tools of his trade and starts. Can you imagine a bricklayer telling you that he’s waiting for the muse to strike before he may begin?

At the opposite pole are those who wait (and wait) for the wind to fill their creative sails. But there is a gradation between these approaches.

I’m a believer in starting. I may chew on things a short while, but I don’t believe in waiting around for inspiration. I begin with craft, knowing that solutions will come through process. Inspiration, too.

Like the bricklayer or carpenter or plumber, we can pick up the tools of craft and get busy. And like the uninhibited child with crayons (uninhibited by the inner critic or editor, a “skill” that we learn later), we work the play instinct. And with the motion of our hands, our minds follow. Ideas, too.

ANTHONY ROTOLO is a creative fellow who does his idea-work in the spaces of publishing and podcasting and pedagogy.