In a forest, when leaves and branches fall, they gradually decay and are absorbed back into the earth, leaving space for the living trees to thrive.
What if this didn’t happen though?
What if leaves didn’t fall from deciduous trees in the autumn, and just stayed there, dead on the branches? How would the new leaves be able to find their way through in the spring, if there was no room for them?
Even if some did begin to grow, how would the tree manage to provide nutrients for so many leaves? How could the sun shine on each leaf when they were overlapping three or four deep and shading each other out?
What if, when a tree died at only a fraction of its potential full height, it just remained there, dead and purposeless in the forest?
How would any new trees be able to make use of the space, the earth, and the atmosphere that the dead tree occupied? How would the forest stay alive and thrive if it was increasingly full of dead wood?
The answer is eventually it wouldn’t.
After only a few handfuls of seasons, the trees would all be dead or dying, the earth would be choked, and nothing new would have the chance to grow.
The forest would be an arboreal graveyard, a snapshot of death frozen in time, without any hope or space for new shoots or new life.
Then of course this would have a wider reaching on the rest of the ecosytem that was dependent on the trees.
And so the decay would spread.
You and I, of course, are not trees, but we can picture our creative lives as forests.
Each new idea we have, is a seed on the wind, looking for somewhere to land.
Each project we begin is a tiny new shoot poking through the earth and reaching for the sun.
The forest around us is our artistic body of work, made up of every project we’ve ever brought to life and nurtured.
But, like the dead forest we imagined above, some of our projects don’t reach their full height.
Some of their trunks never expand to their maximum width. Some of their crowns never stretch out to their greatest potential.
In fact, the majority of our projects probably fall into this category, and are “works in progress”. Even if we haven’t actually made any progress on them in a year, three years, a decade.
Here, we have a choice.
We can either keep them as open projects, taking up space and energy both physically and mentally (even though we know we’ll never return to them). Or we can let go, take the learning we can from the experience, and move on to our new work, a better artist.
If you’re surrounded and choking under deadwood, the entire forest is in danger of dying.
To let the new growth breathe, to let the new projects even have a chance of thriving, the old, decayed and never to be revived wood must be culled and removed.
What does your forest look like? Is it healthy and alive, or drowning in deadwood?
And what about your wider ecosystem – the rest of your life?
If your creativity is choked and in decline, how does that impact your confidence, your wellbeing, your happiness, your state of mind, your relationships?
Maybe it’s time for a little clearing.
Maybe it’s time to take up your axe with courage, clear the deadwood and let that new growth breathe.
Tell us about your forest, and how you deal with the deadwood of unfinished projects in the conversation we’ve started here.
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