I heard this great thing about being creative:
Your first idea is trash. It’s unoriginal.
Your second idea is also trash.
If you can get to the third idea, that’s where the magic happens. That’s the original idea.
One idea, two ideas, three.
As any creative person knows, getting to the third idea is hell. I’ve found, often, that when I have the wherewithal to keep going after the first shabby idea, the second idea is even worse. I’m tempted to give up altogether. After the second idea, I should give up altogether.
The third idea seems to be some kind of reward for just sticking in there. For waiting. And grimly hoping. And trusting the process. And yelling “screw this” loudly.
And sitting back down to type again.
Or stepping back in to parent that child again.
Or rewriting that difficult email for the third time.
I’m not saying the third time doesn’t involve a lot of pain and heartache and misery. . .
To make it to the third idea, you have to have hope. Something has to get you past the naysayers (the ones inside your head and the ones outside your head). Something has to give you just enough spite and defiance and maybe a little jaded bitterness—just a titch—and mule-like stubbornness so that you flip your middle finger at the world’s destructive, creativity-swamping chaos and the eternal question (What’s for dinner?) and just write.
. . .but I am saying there’s resurrection on the third day—if you can wait that long.
Or belly back up to the kitchen sink and all those dishes.
Or wade back in there with the child who has PTSD.
Creativity, after all, is peacemaking—making peace where there is none. It’s holy, but of course that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Remarkably, in addition to hope, you also have to have just enough lack of hubris to be able to wait till that third idea. (I believe they call this humility.) If you’re in charge of the universe, you’ll never start creating. You’ll never get to the first idea, let alone the second or third. You’ll just fold up and die because it’s all too much.
I suspect, broadly speaking, men fight the need to be perfect—that’s their hubris—and women fight the need to be responsible for how everyone feels—that’s patriarchy—and so allow me to give you this permission: You don’t need to be perfect and I don’t care what they told you growing up, everybody’s emotional well-being and stability is not your responsibility. You can, in fact, stop trying to fix everything (yourself included), and just get on with creating.
One idea, two ideas, three ideas.
Go ahead and have the lack of hubris to wait for the Spirit to whisper that third idea.
I had a spiritual director tell me almost the identical advice, but about my own soul: Jesus isn’t the left. Jesus isn’t the right. Jesus goes the third way. And so he does. And so do I, when I find the grit to persevere to the end. I think, really, that’s all that ideas are about. The first idea is a faint flicker of hope, maybe. God is in the business of building a flourishing world, after all. But the first idea is all about our solutions which (of course) are trash.
The second idea is, maybe, our second stubborn try. But it’s also where we meet our Maker. It’s that gritty kind of honest, broken us that Jesus loves so much. It’s that determined wrestle with the angel. It’s where we start to get truthful about our anger and our desperation and our need. It’s a glimmer of something good but we’ll miss the blessing if we give up now.
The third idea. Ah, the third idea. Darkness before dawn, and now the dawn comes, and it finds a quieter, more humble human. A gentler human who’s wrestled with her own flaws and has less energy for judging others. No energy for it, in fact. The Spirit now finds a listening human. One who can surrender into the dance of creating: you and me, mystery and intimacy.
It’s all so wildly liberating, isn’t it? Having permission to make trash? Such a nice thing to tell yourself. This is the creative paradox: It isn’t really about doing at all.
It’s about listening, dwelling, and being.
Now get thee to thy peacemaking work in Christ,