Where Ideas Come From: The Compost Heap

I prescribe to the belief that nothing is truly original, that true creativity is as simple and as difficult as building new connections between preexisting ideas.

Most of my creative projects arise out of an accumulation of years of discarded thoughts. Countless ideas that I’ve scrawled in notebooks only to be left in a pile in the corner, gathering dust.

Like food scraps, these ideas are shaved off of other projects. Some I created, others I merely participated in, and more I read or learned about after the fact. The first few steps down a wayward path, usually starting with “What if we….” or “Wouldn’t it be cool if….” On their own, these premature ideas are nothing to make a meal out of and could easily have been thrown in the trash. Instead, as an avid documenter, I collect these ideas and throw them in a mental compost heap.

There they sit, some for a few days and some for ten years, and overtime their original creative potential becomes the rich soil out of which a new project is born. In order to start something, all I have to do is start digging. Some of the ideas remain intact and unworkable, too interested in their own appearance to lend their nutrients to a greater goal, but others have been broken down to such an extent that they can be remolded, recombined, and that’s where the real fun happens.

This is the rich dirt of creativity: the decomposition of cast-off ideas. It’s why no effort, no project, no thought is ever truly a waste. Today’s distraction can be noted down and put aside to become part of tomorrow’s inspiration. Sometimes our ideas bloom immediately into wild-legged beasts or materialize as shimmering mirages, but many of them just need some time to ferment. Or, in the case of this metaphor, to decompose.


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