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Embrace your creative clutter
With infinite digital storage near-free, you should build an archive of draft concepts and ideas to draw upon
As I walked into my office the other day, I couldn’t help but notice the ever-growing stack of books on my coffee table in disarray, with sticky notes on pages of ideas I had while reading.
My ‘project tracks’ folder in my music studio has close to 1,000 projects started, but unfinished. Some are near completed songs, others are just brief snippets of melodies. I never stop myself from starting a new project when an idea strikes.
The drafts section in my Substack has nearly 200 potential articles in it – some are brief thoughts, some are links to other posts or articles I might like to respond to one day, some are near completed pieces.
When I used to play gigs in college as an artist, (~20 years ago now) I’d purposely keep my vinyl collection not organized by genre or artist, but in more random fashion. I knew every record like the back of my hand (and at the time had well over 1,500 pieces of vinyl) – so knew what I was getting when selecting tracks before a gig. But the fact that it was randomly organized ensured an eclectic selection of tunes for the event I was playing, and guaranteed listeners would get a unique experience. The most interesting progressions were nearly always those that were unplanned and created unexpected and novel results that kept the crowd on their toes.
I personally love creative clutter, creative chaos, whatever you like to call such a concept. Creative clutter is satisfying to make, useful to have, and fun to dig through. The more raw bits I can get out of my mind and into something concrete the better. Even if I never return to it, I find the act itself intrinsically cathartic.
I think we should be unafraid or not feel like it’s wasted effort to produce creative clutter. Some of those snippets off the cusp of your brain can actually produce the most satisfying and successful results when you do take the time to draw them out into complete thoughts later. A scratchpad full of digital ideas has near infinite potential value. If you don’t have one, you’re always starting from zero.
The real world creative clutter gets to be chaotic – but with the digital variety you’re free of space constraints. Storage is dirt cheap, folders are searchable/sortable, starting a new Google doc is free, and you can manage the digital creative clutter to where it may seem chaotic to someone on the outside, but to you everything is in its place or easily findable.
Some of the music I’ve created will only be heard by me, and never another living soul. Same with words I have written. Some of it might get merged with another project. Some of it I might never listen to again. Some of it I’ll send off to a close friend to let them see my raw, unfinished thoughts. Some of it I’ll decide I don’t like, and delete. I’ve even posted the unmixed parts of unfinished music to communities of music producers and let others run with it.
I know I’m not the only one with countless unfinished works – I’ve been in friend’s music studios and seen what friend’s Substack dashboards look like. It is simply a natural byproduct of our lifelong creative journey as artists, writers, marketers – whatever it is we are putting our souls into. I recognize some people have more ego here and are perfectionists with what they ship or share. But I’m simply not this way and don’t mind taking a different path of personal creative evolution in the digital age as it helps refine my work over time.
Anyway, I’m bullish creative clutter and even go as far as including it in local backups (to burn if desired, but the default is to keep). I know am not alone in this, so felt like sharing in case you are similar. Who knows, maybe the AI will get good enough that all those starting points of ideas can be finished, or at least brought to a workable point for us. Worth hanging on to…