23 votes

Productive vs non-productive creativity

I have a slight struggle that I wonder if anyone else can relate to. I'm a creative "type" in that both my job (scientist) and hobbies (many, over the years) require constant innovation, in addition to the usual labor, to keep them going.

I have a note/journal app where I store my ideas. Sometimes these are ideas with acute utility e.g. an experiment design that I can test out the next day at work or maybe an idea for a paper. Other ideas are what I would consider "highdeas" - insights or thoughts that seem amazing when you're stoned but after you sober up they're kind of nonsense. The former are productive and the latter are non-productive forms of creativity (barring any offshoots of the latter that prove useful later on).

But then sometimes I get idea in-between. Say, an insight into how certain human behaviors are a certain way or maybe a rant on a topic/issue in my lab work that is interesting but not valuable enough to publish or bring up in a formal meeting. My question / discussion topic for you, is, what do you do with these sort of self-ascribed interesting ideas that have no immediate value? One option is to write them out on a forum, as I am currently doing, but I would end up writing all day. Does anyone else keep track of these? Do you schedule a follow-up with these intermediate ideas for future inspiration? I currently use Joplin which is great but I don't think there are any features to stimulate creativity in this manner.

17 comments

  1. [7]
    ThatFanficGuy Link
    Write those motherfuckers down like you're not going to have another. One thing that astonished me about science is that any progress matters. Your discovery may have no effect right now, or for...

    Write those motherfuckers down like you're not going to have another.

    One thing that astonished me about science is that any progress matters. Your discovery may have no effect right now, or for the next hundred years, but eventually, someone might stumble upon your "useless" experiment and discover that one piece of the puzzle they were missing. It's not that the future scientist is a genius: it's that their work is build on the shoulders of giant.

    Your creative self compounds. I think there's some retentive process happening when you go over an idea you just had and write it down. It creates a mark that your subconscious mind may return to later. And the truth is: you can't know which one will be useful. There's no metric, no heuristic that could possibly tell you this. (If there were, it means it would be able to simulate reality, which would make your wondering moot anyway.)

    Write them down. Re-read them every so often. With time, new perspective will come; maybe you'll chuckle, and maybe it would make your future.

    11 votes
    1. [6]
      JakeTheDog Link Parent
      Hmm, good points. I guess, for me, it's how I value things. But in this case, the value is unknown/TBD. Like a lot of basic science (which is what I do) where you just do things that seem...

      Hmm, good points. I guess, for me, it's how I value things. But in this case, the value is unknown/TBD. Like a lot of basic science (which is what I do) where you just do things that seem interesting and one day you get something really useful out of it.

      Reading these comments, I might either start a blog or start being more diligent with the formatting and organization of my current digital notebooks so that it's at least readable.

      Sometimes, though, I like to have discussions of ideas. I don't just want to throw something out there and claim it as a refined truth (that's what peer reviewed publications are for). I'm wondering if it would be appropriate to refine some of my better ideas on my own time and then post them here on Tildes for others to engage... At the very least it would serve as a high-traffic archive to stimulate others in the future.

      1 vote
      1. [2]
        anowlcalledjosh Link Parent
        Have you seen Julia Evans' blog? That seems like kind of what you're describing (read: "hey, here's a thing, but I don't have all the answers"), and I find it pretty enjoyable to read – I'm sure...

        Sometimes, though, I like to have discussions of ideas. I don't just want to throw something out there and claim it as a refined truth

        Have you seen Julia Evans' blog? That seems like kind of what you're describing (read: "hey, here's a thing, but I don't have all the answers"), and I find it pretty enjoyable to read – I'm sure you'd have an audience if you set up something similar, or even just posted stuff on Tildes.

        3 votes
        1. JakeTheDog Link Parent
          I have not. Thanks for the link! I'll definitely consider that.

          I have not. Thanks for the link! I'll definitely consider that.

      2. [3]
        ThatFanficGuy Link Parent
        If it's the outlining you're interested in, try Indigrid. It's a simple, quick app to help you keep things straight. I've used it for months now, and I hold all of my project ideas there – unless...

        If it's the outlining you're interested in, try Indigrid. It's a simple, quick app to help you keep things straight. I've used it for months now, and I hold all of my project ideas there – unless they need presentation, in which case I rework them for good looks and post them online.

        Alternatively, there's no simple storage for plain text than a .txt file. It's dumb, and it's as simple as it gets to use.

        1. [2]
          JakeTheDog Link Parent
          Oh thanks for that great suggestion! Yes, logical flow and networking ideas (like bottom-up outlining) is definitely something I've struggled with for a long time. I've recently started using...

          Oh thanks for that great suggestion! Yes, logical flow and networking ideas (like bottom-up outlining) is definitely something I've struggled with for a long time. I've recently started using Joplin, taking advantage of Markup, but I find it's a little too "simple" for what I want here (it's great for everything else like short notes and to do lists). Just from the preview I like the near-infinite hierarchy and history tracking. We'll see how it works out.

          1. ThatFanficGuy Link Parent
            If you end up using Indigrid, a little tip: if you select and copy multiple nodes, they come out as indented lines of plain text.

            If you end up using Indigrid, a little tip: if you select and copy multiple nodes, they come out as indented lines of plain text.

            1 vote
  2. [2]
    meghan Link
    Thoughts not shared are the same as thoughts never had. This is how people end up with blogs with hundreds of posts that span years. Do write them down, we'd love to hear them! "highdeas" ideas...

    I would end up writing all day

    Thoughts not shared are the same as thoughts never had. This is how people end up with blogs with hundreds of posts that span years. Do write them down, we'd love to hear them! "highdeas" ideas and all :D

    5 votes
    1. JakeTheDog Link Parent
      Haha! That's a good line, so true. Because often even I forget I had the thought... I think I might keep a personal blog/journal and then share some on Tildes because I am more interested in...

      Thoughts not shared are the same as thoughts never had.

      Haha! That's a good line, so true. Because often even I forget I had the thought... I think I might keep a personal blog/journal and then share some on Tildes because I am more interested in bouncing it around (this topic post is one such, though a bit more meta than usual).

      1 vote
  3. [3]
    bbvnvlt Link
    Good question! I'm one of those people with 5 half-blogs with between 3 and 100 posts. But then I sent in some opinion pieces to my university newspaper/website last year, and got asked to be a...

    Good question!

    I'm one of those people with 5 half-blogs with between 3 and 100 posts. But then I sent in some opinion pieces to my university newspaper/website last year, and got asked to be a regular columnist. I said yes immediately precisely as a challenge to myself to do something with these random but possibly significant thoughts.

    It's been way more difficult than I'd thought, and therefore more productive. Boiling a thought down into 500 words that are understandable and preferably mildly entertaining to an audience forces you to confront inconsistencies and answer open questions about those brilliant thoughts and opinions I think I have sometimes. They turn out not to be so brilliant.

    Side note, see Brain Crack by Ze Frank.

    But writing the column also forces me to produce at least one sensible thing per month that might be interesting to other people. And it removes the option of not publishing anything after a burst of half-assed drafts. Scary but fun, and very helpful for me.

    So yeah, if your writing's any good, perhaps you might pursue something similar.

    1 vote
    1. [2]
      JakeTheDog Link Parent
      Ha! That was a good clip, good point. I think this is what I should do - try submitting articles to random publishers. Currently it's all very formal for me in academia, but I think making it a...

      Ha! That was a good clip, good point.

      I think this is what I should do - try submitting articles to random publishers. Currently it's all very formal for me in academia, but I think making it a hobby / side hustle would also improve my academic writing. Not to mention I'm finding academic writing a bit to restrictive, albeit for good reasons.

      Do you write according to your own interests or are you asked to write in specific areas?

      1 vote
      1. bbvnvlt Link Parent
        I get to write what I like. Which is good and bad, of course. No guidelines means I have to decide every month what might be worthwhile or interesting. But I decided for myself (and discussed with...

        I get to write what I like. Which is good and bad, of course. No guidelines means I have to decide every month what might be worthwhile or interesting. But I decided for myself (and discussed with the editor that asked me for the column) to try to write about education about 1/3 or 1/2 of time and I usually write the other episodes about ways in which I feel the university and technologists in general are falling short of academic ideals (I teach at a university of technology).

        My 'breakthrough' was an opinion piece responding to someone in the university paper/website (I still remember it as the first, it is now only the second, I still don't know what to call it :-P) that took a silly and hurtful view of diversity issues at our university (e.g. this person felt we shouldn't try to do anything about the wildly skewed gender balance in engineering). I had been thinking about the issue for a while and saw it as an opportunity to get my thinking straight.

        So I don't know wheter random publishers would have worked for me. I feel part of the community at my uni, which makes it easer to write. And the university paper is an easier medium to break into than others, of course.

        1 vote
  4. [2]
    masochist Link
    I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that a large amount of software that runs your everyday life was written while its authors were intoxicated in one way or another (or multiple). I don't...

    I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that a large amount of software that runs your everyday life was written while its authors were intoxicated in one way or another (or multiple). I don't partake myself for a variety of reasons, but highdeas are absolutely powering this world to a degree that most people don't realize. So even if you don't think much of the ideas at the time, write them down so you can analyze them more carefully later.

    1 vote
    1. JakeTheDog Link Parent
      Yea, I have in the past in a paper journal, but I found that revisiting is confusing because everything is all over the place. So I'll be taking everyone's advice and organizing it so I can...

      Yea, I have in the past in a paper journal, but I found that revisiting is confusing because everything is all over the place. So I'll be taking everyone's advice and organizing it so I can revisit specific topics.

      But yea, from what I understand, the internet would not be where it is if it weren't for the ingestion of certain molecules...

  5. [2]
    Comment deleted by author
    Link
    1. JakeTheDog Link Parent
      I don't think so. In this case, you're presumably improving yourself while playing.

      I don't think so. In this case, you're presumably improving yourself while playing.

  6. [2]
    Macil Link
    I've been keeping a lot of random notes in Google Keep lately. I started out with just writing notes of blog post drafts and project ideas, though I gradually expanded to jotting any idea down...

    I've been keeping a lot of random notes in Google Keep lately. I started out with just writing notes of blog post drafts and project ideas, though I gradually expanded to jotting any idea down that I think I might possibly want to recall later. I've got notes listing interesting quotes from videos I've watched (with links and timestamps), notes on various mildly-controversial news items with links to evidence to help me remember an intelligent opinion on it, notes rambling about the nature of consciousness (often written while high ... it's usually closer to the side of previously-unconsidered tautology than deep insight, but still stands up more than I expected. I think being high makes everything feel interesting and makes me more likely to be explicit about my assumptions), notes about random things from my childhood that I think about often to help me remember the details, etc. I've been using tags to sort the types of notes too. I really recommend using Keep. It also has a convenient mobile app.

    1. JakeTheDog Link Parent
      Oooh yes looks like we're on the same brainwave! I have been using Keep, but I am in the process of de-googling so I switched to Joplin. Have you any habits on following up on your notes? Ever...

      Oooh yes looks like we're on the same brainwave!
      I have been using Keep, but I am in the process of de-googling so I switched to Joplin.

      Have you any habits on following up on your notes? Ever reference material in a conversation?