I used to write songs for a rock band. Sometimes I'd have a song written, thinking it was my best work ever, then when it came time to rehearse, we'd realize it wasn't going to work out. Maybe we didn't have the instruments to do it justice (we were a three piece), or it was out of my comfortable vocal range, or just too technically tricky for us to get right.

Then I'd be left with this feeling like I'd wasted my best efforts, like I couldn't ever make something that good again. And I could prove it to myself! I didn't know what song I'd write that was better than the one we'd just had to ditch!

I get the same with research. Sometimes I'll come up with an idea of the next thing I want to test, or design. Then it doesn't work, or it's not practical, or its done before. And then it's tempting to feel exactly the same way: that I've bungled my one single shot.

But I've learnt to not feel this way, and it was my song writing which helped first. Now when my idea doesn't work, my first thought isn't "oh no my idea has failed", it's "OK I guess I'll have to just have another idea". I've learnt to rely on my future creativity.

This isn't easy, and sometimes it feels like walking on air. Coming up with an idea is different from other tasks, because by definition it's different every time. When I imagine playing a piece on the piano, I know exactly the form of what I'm going to do. When I imagine coming up with an idea it's a total mental blank. If I knew where I was going I'd already be there. Creativity is also a lot less reliable than physical skills, so I often have no idea how long it's going to take me to come up with something.

There's no magic bullet, but the most important thing is getting good at noticing when you're treating your future creativity as nonexistent. The biggest sign of improvement in this skill is that you don't feel like you're stepping off a cliff every time you abandon a creative endeavour, be it idea or project.

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