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How to Let Go of Creative Ideas that Aren’t Working

When it comes to creativity, there’s no such thing as perfection. Creatives have to try, fail, and try again (and again) in their efforts to expand their creativity and live a creative life they love. And things don’t always go according to plan. Sometimes, a creative person doesn’t quite have the skill they need to execute an idea properly. Other times, a client or the public doesn’t receive your idea well. And sometimes, the idea itself just isn’t working. In this last case, the best thing you can do is let go of the idea before you put too much time and effort into it. But how can you let go of creative ideas that aren’t working?

How to let go of creative ideas that aren’t working

It can be really difficult to let go of an idea that isn’t working, especially if it’s one you really cared about, or one you’ve already significantly invested in. So how can you do what you need to do and call it quits at the right time?

Be honest with yourself.

One of the most important things you can do is be honest with yourself about the fact that it is time to let the idea go. It’s really easy to justify holding on to a bad idea. After all, you’ve probably put a lot of effort into developing this idea, and you’ve maybe even started working on it. You might have been really excited about the idea to begin with, and it seems impossible, from a practical and emotional standpoint, to just let it go. 

But here’s the thing: if the idea isn’t working, then it isn’t working. It isn’t going to serve you. Things aren’t going to magically turn around. If you have a feeling that an idea has maybe run its course, then you need to trust that intuition and give it some serious thought. 

Need help? Check out our post on how to know when it’s time to let go of an idea.

Try a small adjustment.

The good news is that the idea might not be a total waste. If you’ve realized that the idea isn’t going to work in its original iteration, it doesn’t mean that you have to throw the whole thing out. First, try making a small adjustment. Is there anything you can do differently to solve the problem with the project and keep things moving?

Before you give up on an idea entirely, do some brainstorming about what, if anything, could salvage some aspects of it. After all, the idea was good at some point. There might be some parts of it that are worth saving.

Double check your reasoning.

So you’ve started to wonder if your idea might not be so great after all. Make sure those thoughts are coming from a good place. 

There are plenty of good reasons to give up on an idea. Maybe it isn’t progressing the way you want it to, you no longer believe in it, someone presented an opinion you hadn’t thought of before, etc. However, there are also bad reasons to give up on an idea: you’re afraid, someone made you feel bad about it, you think it’s going to be too much work, etc.

Of course, you’re allowed to quit for any reason you want. But if you don’t want to regret letting go of your idea, you need to do it for the right reasons. If there’s something else at the heart of your desire to quit (e.g. fear or insecurity), try to work through that before letting go of a potentially great idea.

If you’re having a hard time, ask yourself these questions to help uncover your true motivations:

  • Does this idea still align with my creative goals?
  • Did a specific event happen that made me start questioning this idea?
  • What is different now compared to when I first had the idea?
  • What is my primary reason for wanting to let this idea go?

Make the decision.

An important decision is worth thinking about. You want to consider all angles before you let go of a creative idea you think isn’t working. But at some point, you have to just make the decision. The more you put off the decision, the harder it will be to make.

Once you’ve realized something needs to change, you’ve thought about potential small adjustments you could make, and you’ve double-checked your reasoning, then you have enough information to make a smart decision. So make one.

The key here is to commit to the decision. If it really is the right call to let go of the idea, then decide once and for all to let it go. Don’t second guess yourself. Just let it go. Committing 100% to the decision will help.

Forgive yourself.

It’s hard to let go of creative ideas, even the ones that aren’t working. A lot of creatives (myself included) sometimes see this as a sign of failure—i.e., if you had to quit, you failed.

Even though I sometimes give in to this line of thinking, I can see the flaws (and the harm) in it. The truth is, letting go of creative ideas that aren’t working isn’t failure. If anything, it’s progress. In fact, if you think about it, you might say that continuing with an idea that you know isn’t working would be a worse decision, right?

If you’ve decided to let go of an idea, forgive yourself for it. It’s okay to let something go when it isn’t taking you anywhere. It doesn’t mean that you’re a failure, or that you’ll never have a good idea ever again, or that you’ve missed your chance at success. It just means that you were wise enough to read the writing on the wall and let go of an idea that wasn’t serving you or your creative goals.

Move on.

The best way to let go of an idea is to replace it with a new one. If you just drop your idea and don’t have anything to work on next, you’re more likely to feel down about letting that first idea go. And the longer you have nothing to work on, the harder it might be to get back in the game.

I recommend jumping straight into a project after dropping one, even if it is a small project that you’re using as a placeholder. The key is to keep the momentum going so that you don’t have the chance to wallow over the lost idea.

Learn the lesson.

You can always learn a lesson in the world of creativity. What can you learn from your experience with this idea that you’ve let go of? Did it teach you something about the ideas that will and won’t work for you? Did it reveal something about your skill set or work ethic? Do you think you worked on that idea for too long before letting it go? Is there anything you would have done differently? As you take the time to reflect on your entire experience with that idea, you might learn something that will help you in the future.

It might sound strange, but learning how to let go of creative ideas that aren’t working is an important skill to have. Only when you cut out the bad ideas can you give proper attention to the good ones. Your best ideas deserve your best efforts. Learn to recognize when it’s time to let something go and move on. 

Live a more creative life.

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