Idea Debt for the Attention Vulnerable

I can’t move. My mind is too full

Imagine your mind is a shopping cart...

Now you get to wander around the world’s Largest Big Box Shopping Center. They have everything you could want. Giant packages of toilet paper, father-in-law impressing televisions, and enough frozen goodies to feed the neighborhood kids all summer. They also have all manner of glorious free samples.

They don’t even care how much you take. They're sample sizes are enormous and let you fill up your cart with whatever you can’t put in your mouth. They don’t care if you pay! You can wander around, grabbing more and more items and sliding them into your shopping cart. You’re full and happy and you have little to pay for anything.

Why would you even leave?

Your cart gets heavier and heavier as you go along. It’s becoming a chore to push around. There’s so much great stuff in there now, you even go back for seconds. You begin to feel exhausted from all those free hot dogs, churros and sodas you’ve enjoyed. Your calorie heavy belly says it's time to push that full cart out to the parking lot.

If only you could find the exit.

You plod back through the store. You start telling the nice people you can’t take anymore samples as you reach the check out area with an overfilled flatbed of half-eaten items. You go through it all, unable to remember what you were there to buy in the first place.

By the time you get outside, your entire day is gone. Your cart is full of things you don’t want anymore. You came there to invest in what you needed, but got seduced by the largeness and freeness of everything. You don’t have the stamina to do that again. Load what you have into your car, and hope this free stuff you've accumulated will be useful later. You did buy a handful of useful things, but the rest of this stuff is tedious at this point.

Oh well… you can always come back again tomorrow.


When your brain's belly hurts too much

There is a concept known as "idea debt" that was first introduced to me by cartoonist and creative coach, Jessica Abel. She described it as:

“When you spend too much time picturing what a project is going to be like, too much time thinking about how awesome it will be to have this thing done and in the world, too much time imagining how cool you will look, how in demand you’ll be, how much money you’ll make. And way too little time actually making the thing.”

It was such a powerful idea for me at the time that I completely restructured my story files.  Then, I had a mock funeral for the thousands of pages of plot and lore I’d accumulated for a decade of unfinished stories. Over the years, I have started to realize that I wasn’t thinking about how “cool I would look” once the work finished. Since I tend to be an opportunist with a powerful hunger for empty calories in both body and brain, I had a different challenge to overcome. I have to watch out for an idea caloric surplus.
Idea debt is about too many of your own ideas muddying the creative waters. An idea caloric surplus is about consuming and pushing around ideas from everybody else.

For me, the world is a Big Box Store filled with attractive ideas. They may not work and could be actively harmful if applied improperly. My mind is the gaping maw of a shopping cart with an appetite. Its desire to be full of things all the time is the most American description I could make for modern life. The internet had shaped itself to entice people like me even before the ads became targeted.

I get information, stimulation, and amalgamation from all my parasocial friends on podcasts, social media and YouTube.
I know they’re my friends, because I push the cart and pick up an abundance of free content that I never even get charged for. It's all mine and I don’t even have to leave the house! Yet, even listening a 2x the normal speed, I cannot listen to everything or hope to comprehend it.

And when I obsess over it, I don’t create anything.

Being a creator was always work I felt most suited to do. While writers get told to read to improve, what are wannabe screenwriting, podcasting, essay creating, comic book reading, anime loving, songwriting vocalists supposed to do? The easy answer is go way over my allotment of idea calories (idea-lories?) filling up on too much of other people’s ideas.

Minds need to wander in open fields in order to create.

I am aware that my desire to give my mind more space to roam and calories to burn to reach an idea caloric deficit is done in the pursuit of creating more things. I know that I seek to add to the noise for everyone else. The only solace I can take in this is that maybe my creations will be great enough to inspire others. Maybe what they make will be great enough to fix climate change or outsmart capitalism. Either way, it's my sanity on the line.

Keeping my mind hungrier up against the cornucopia of content is form of protest an in a world that doesn’t seem to want me that way. This place will feed me until I burst, then tell me I did it to myself.

So enjoy less and make more.

When I need something, I can shop direct at more of the local markets. I can bring a reusable bag from home and learn the names of people who handle my content. I can come for what I need each day, leaving ample time to take my mind on long days of frolicking in meadows.

And some days, when the weather is nice, I will set up my own booth and barter homemade, artisanal content with my friends and neighbors.

Michael Bridgett

Michael Bridgett

Michael Bridgett is a copywriter, songwriter, and voice talent that writes about media. In addition to essays, articles, and ideology, Michael also releases music under the name Mike Dynamo
Western Hemisphere