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The Next Thing

Some ideas grab you and you can’t put them down until they’re finished, and then you sense them glowing in the fibers of your being like the smell of ozone after an electrical storm. Sparks of imagination fire off in your brain like lightning in a summer storm.

Inevitably in writing I get so excited about a concept I’m contemplating that I’ll want to jump immediately to write about that one instead of the topic I’d originally pursued. This is maddeningly distracting, of course, and I force myself to stay on point with whatever I’d started down the path on in the first place. But first, to stop the nagging I get it out of my head and summarized the thoughts on paper or in a few key words in my drafts to return to again another time.

Does a million thoughts in your head indicate an active mind or a distracted mind? I think both, if you let the thoughts pull you too far off that path. Each is Frost’s path less taken, tantalizingly close to being realized. But if you stray too far down that way you’re not going very far at all on the one you started on. So which is the right way? Both can be. Or neither.

Books are the physical representation of this phenomenon. That book started then put aside in favor of another that strikes your fancy. Then you hit on one that stirs your soul into a frothy latte of inspiration with an extra shot of espresso emphatically pounding passionately in your heart. You eagerly chase this one to the end, throwing aside all the partially completed tomes. Before you know it you have a pile of books (or drafts) stacked up in need of reckoning with and you’re bouncing off the walls.

Next things offer hope. Next things stir the soul. Next things excite the senses. Next things spin up anticipation. Next things are our possible future cresting in our imagination like a wave, on the verge of being fully realized in the break.

But first, there’s this other thing. Commitments to follow through on. Things started that we honor with focused effort. For to finish what you started honors more than the work. The work we choose to finish leaves a legacy of promises kept. Promises to ourselves and others. The next thing must wait until this thing is finished. For all the paths we might roam, it’s the only way we’ll ever get where we’re going.

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