At any given time, there’s probably about a dozen too many ideas rattling around in the vast weirdness of my thoughts. This can make keeping track of everything a bit difficult, though I say this as someone who also owns a good number of notebooks that are far more devoid of any writing than they should be. As I mentioned earlier in the week, I’m now working on the first draft of yet another novel idea, which arrives and leaves the forefront of my thoughts at its leisure. There are Warpt Factor plotlines bouncing off of one another like they’re all locked up in a particularly potent bouncy castle. Many short stories. Posts for Screen Robot. You get the idea.
It occurred to me this morning, as I sat in bed in my half-asleep haze I seem to favor keeping around by not allowing myself adequate time to rest, that for every so many ideas I actually devote time and attention to there are also so many ideas left to wither and die. I did some quick, perhaps marginally fictional math. For every five creative ideas I have (not limiting this to writing, because I do have other ideas and I know that may be shocking to some people), only three of them really live long enough to see some level of completion. Whether that completion is publication elsewhere, posting here, or just a saved document I feel has achieved its potential for the time being, those ideas get to live.
By that very basic math, however, it’s easy to see that two ideas receive the skull and crossbones treatment, and are left somewhere six feet under the bustling and busy active thoughts rushing about my mind. A short horror story exploring a festival of dead kings, in which knights rise up to claim their still-living brethren. A dark comedy featuring a cannibal’s lamentations on her oversights during a recent grocery shopping trip, and how she can’t just cobble together a meal for the night she’s got planned. Soon to join those: the podcast idea (let’s be realistic there). They all started off, met with the same enthusiasm and drive from me as any other ideas, well enough, only to end up unattended. Lost, perhaps.
Taking a step back to consider all of this is actually a touch embarrassing. I have my Surface 2, my laptop, my quasi-functional-but-mostly-dead laptop, and my desktop. There are piles of notebooks strewn about the house. In a pinch, I could probably even take notes in my phone (which, I’m sure, I would later have to decipher because I handle the touchscreen keyboard on that rather poorly). There’s no real reason for these ideas to be left to die instead of being placed on the proverbial backburner, and yet it still happens.
I’m not saying, of course, that it’s bad that some of my stories never actually see the light of day. I acknowledge, and embrace, the fact some of the things I think up are actually just well-disguised mountains of foul-smelling, poorly-conceived garbage. I’m saying I should be able to weed those out better by, say, actually being a responsible writer and keeping notes of ideas when they happen. I know that’s not always plausible.
“Sorry, officer. I didn’t mean to run those three red lights and hit that pedestrian, but I had a short story idea about a walrus with tremendous potential and I just had to write it down before it fled.”
There’s also the matter of treating ideas like they’re your children. I’m not fond of this comparison, in that I’m not overly fond of children (Sorry, I’m sure if you’re a parent you have the most wonderful, lovely kids on Earth, and they can stay wonderful and lovely at great distances from me.). Instead, I like to approach them as strange beasts, both large and small, who happen to have wandered into my headspace and need some level of maintenance. If not fed by due consideration, they turn to eating one another. Some are more in need of attention than others, and some are better at demanding my time.
My goal, I think, is not to save all of my ideas. I would probably end up getting crushed under a mountain of notebooks, and I’d rather not end up looking more like a hoarder than I already do. Instead, my goal is to reduce my idea mortality rate by keeping a running collection of them, giving them attention as my mood and writing voice deem appropriate. This way there will hopefully be less clutter. Less bits and pieces I was sure I had more to littering the rest of my ideas, which end up bloated with extra, yet unhelpful, details that definitely probably went somewhere else, I imagine. I would almost go so far as to guess these errant pieces are the building bricks and stones of those pesky writer’s blocks I encounter. Perhaps not.
And even if I choose to discard something, there’s always the chance of bringing it back. I love that about ideas. You can always resurrect them if you think they could go somewhere, or if the inspiration strikes just right.
I want to make sure I give every idea the due consideration it deserves, even if that consideration leads to tossing it aside. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll find a few more gems worthy of publishing this way.
On a related-but-not-quite-related note: I’m very happy to say my short story titled “Rebooting Everything” was accepted for publication. Once it’s published, I’ll be sure to share.
Let me end this with some questions, then. What is your idea mortality rate (give or take)? How do you think you can reduce that number? Did anyone else think of the Bring Out Your Dead guy from Monty Python and the Holy Grail with all this talk of dead ideas (or am I the only one)?