Ideas

I’ve recently started writing with an eye toward publication, rather than just posting to a blog no one reads. I’ve already churned out drafts of several essays, short stories, even the beginnings of a novel – and what’s more, I’ve had a couple of publications this year already.

This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but I always talked myself out of it for the dumbest of reasons – if I do get lucky and publish a few things right off, what happens when I run out of ideas? I’ve worked in creative jobs for much of my career, but I’ve never really understood – or learned to trust – the process of generating ideas. I don’t know where they come from, I can’t seen to make them appear on command, and the prospect of running out of ideas just when people start to expect them from me on a regular basis frightens me.

Yes, it’s silly. Yes, it’s putting the cart before the horse. But it’s still a real, if irrational, fear.

I’ve got a folder in Google Drive where I store all my ideas for future projects, both fiction and nonfiction. Some of them are ideas I’ve had for a long time but have never gotten around to filling out. Others are brand new, and I have no idea what they’ll look like if they ever turn into anything.

Notice I said if. Not when.

One of the things I’ve learned from this process is that just because I have an idea, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. That doesn’t mean it will ever turn into anything worthwhile, even if I do invest the time into arranging all the words just so. And it certainly doesn’t mean I’m obligated to send it to an editor, ever.

This is something I have to remind myself of, and more frequently than I probably should. I have sent out pieces that seemed like good ideas at the time, but just didn’t have any real meat to them when I was done writing them. I ignored that, most likely because I was very invested in my idea, or at least in the idea of my idea. On those occasions when I have realized that I submitted empty-calorie word salad under the guise of fiction or creative nonfiction, I have always cringed. I considered withdrawing these submissions, but I think that looks even less professional than sending in work that didn’t quite work. I’d rather let an editor dismiss a piece and try again with something better than withdraw it and say, “oops, sorry, changed my mind here.”

Luckily, the editors in question all agreed that these particular submissions weren’t any good and rejected them – and, most likely, forgot all about both them and me, which frees me to try, try again.

Sometimes, ideas are destined to remain ideas. Don’t try to force every thought you have into a story or essay. And if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll probably know when you’re doing it.

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