Are Your Greatest Ideas Rotting on the Vine?

One Thing Leads to Another…  And Another…  And a Few More

On Monday, I felt the urge to write a short blog post about Memorial Day. Nothing big, nothing complicated. Just a nice little Memorial Day post.

In the middle of this little holiday gem, I referenced a historical event. My fact-checking and anti-embarrassment instincts compelled me to verify that I had the stated date right.

While double-checking that information, I ran across a reference to another historical event. Out of curiosity, I did a little research into that and realized it was an even better example for the post. I did a little more homework on this particular event. Then I did some more. And that made me think of something else. And that new thing seemed to tie into the original post idea but also had a connection to yet another little chunk of history.

You see where this is going, right?

Now I have a folder stuffed with material about a post-Civil War US military excursion in Asia, the nature of Ireland in the waning days of the potato famine, the nature of immigrant recruitment by the US Marine Corps, the 7th Cavalry Regiment’s participation in Reconstruction efforts, how three Americans died at the hands of spear-wielding Koreans serving a hermit king, a biographical sketch of a gray-eyed Irish carpenter named Hanrahan, the story of an old Irish drinking song’s use in Custer’s army, a series of quotations about faith, snippets of dialog from Clint Eastwood’s lousy Grenada invasion flick, and more…

That little post became a bigger post and then moved right into A Very Big Idea for something that couldn’t be a single post. In my mind, all of these little snippets of history and the stories they tell are slowly but surely clicking together in the form of a story. A novel, perhaps.

I didn’t write the post. I saved the notes. I put them in a folder. That folder is stuffed with other folders. Each of them has notes about an idea of some sort.

Not Quite Raisins in the Sun, but Still a Lousy Situation

I rarely crack those folders open. It’s sad.

I’m not saying that every one of them contains something unbelievably awesome. I’m sure most of them don’t. A few of them might, though.   Who knows, if I toss in a few vampires, a murder mystery, a busty Kentucky belle with an eyepatch and three Zombie Sioux warriors in the hull of a warship, my Memorial Day thing might actually become a hit!

All kidding aside, some of the ideas really are good.  Or at least I think they are.  And I feel a real urge to test them or to prove them.

But I spend my days writing to keep the fridge stocked and the kids fed, you know? I spend non-writing time lining up more work, perfecting systems, etc. The free time I have goes elsewhere. Those moments of inspiration, excitement and ideas don’t get the attention they should.

I’ll make a few guesses:

  • Most writers have these moments of inspiration and ideas to do something new, different, creative, smart or interesting.
  • Most writers don’t revisit those ideas with any frequency.
  • Most writers don’t transform their ideas into actual work product.
  • Some of those ideas have the potential to be Truly Great.

And that’s why I’m a little bummed. I’m thinking that these potentially awesome, heartfelt, genius pieces aren’t in progress and that few of us are going to write them.

I’m not just talking about the random novel ideas, either. I’m thinking about the interview you’d love to do or the article inspired by that other article that takes a new angle on an issue. I’m thinking about impassioned essays and short poems. I’m guessing that the idea folders of the writing world are holding onto more great comedy bits and more tear-jerking eulogies than I can imagine.

And they sit there, rotting while we chase paydays and clock hands.

It’s a bummer.

Am I Alone Here?

Maybe I’m all alone on this and the rest of you find a way to tackle your great ideas and to bring them to life. If you do, share your tips for making that happen, please.

But if I’m right, and I’m part of a big crew of writers who are leaving plenty of ideas and dreams deferred, I’d like to do my little part to encourage folks to push back at the stockpiling of ideas without followup.

I’m making a point of revisiting my ideas folder and picking something each and every week upon which I can spend some time and effort. I’m not going to let the ideas sit in purgatory indefinitely.

A Challenge…  Interested?

How about you? If you’re in the same boat, would you consider making a commitment to bringing some of your ideas to life–the ones from which you’ve walked away?

If so, consider this a challenge.

Fill the comment sections.  I want to know how others handle (or fail to handle) this and whether they feel just a little guilty for letting great ideas sit around day after day, too.


13 responses
  1. Wendi Kelly Avatar

    Deb and I discussed this very thing in January. At that time we were both working full time every single moment we could squeeze in. No little nine to five… it was a passion of all the time we had. But we had an ideas file that was getting fat and ignored sitting by the wayside. So we made a commitment to carve out one day a week for that file. It quickly became Fiction Fridays and before long it was Friday writing day on our novel. Having the discipline to carve out one day a week in the schedule to work on it created amazing results. We found we got double the work done on Thursdays so that we could keep Fridays sacred, often putting in longer days, but it was worth it. It sharpens our creativity and keeps the rest of our work even fresher. The end result? An almost 500 page novel completed in 4 months time. Because it was scheduled into the work week and we planned around it. It was one of our big rocks- as Stephen Covey would say- that we put in the schedule first.
    .-= Wendi Kelly´s last blog ..More Than Word: Essential Programs for Book Design =-.

  2. Sarah E. White Avatar

    Oh, yeah, I have this problem. All the time. I have way more ideas than I have time to deal with ever, particularly right now with a nine-month-old in the house. Or I’ll start working on an idea, send a query once, never hear anything back and never go back to that idea.

    I think we need to have a “good idea day” once a month, where the regular work is set aside to work on something that we really want to work on. Play with might be the more accurate verb there.
    .-= Sarah E. White´s last blog ..Is Passion a Problem? =-.

  3. Kevin Freeman Avatar

    Yep, we all do it. Heck, I don’t even have a folder – just a bunch of sticky notes, scribbled-in notepads, and vague ideas that keep floating back up to the surface from time to time.

    But the good news is that you have motivated me to do something about (some of) it once and for all. Thanks Carson! Your story is an inspiration for us scatterbrained creative types everywhere!
    .-= Kevin Freeman´s last blog ..Why Use Freeman Writing Services? =-.

  4. Marlene MacIsaac Avatar

    Yep. What I do is open WordPress and make a draft post, in which I at least give my topic a title. That way, when I am ready, it’s there.

    I’ve been avoiding finishing some of them, but it’s great to have waiting for me the ones that I do want to do, but just don’t have time to do at that very moment. Especially when I suddenly realize I haven’t done a blog post in over a week and I’ve told google to spider my website weekly.

    My 3 unfinished posts:
    -Creating your website’s privacy policy and copyright policy. (Boring, but useful, I hope.)
    -Review of my favourite book on Buddhism, Ending the Pursuit of Happiness by Barry Magid. (I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it justice, but what the heck, it’s just a review for the fun of it.)
    -Comments on the very first Integral Salon I attended. (It’s a monthly meeting of people interested in Ken Wilber’s “Integral” philosophy/approach to life.)

    OK, you threw down the gauntlet. Tonight, I will pick one of these and finish it! Or at least add to it. Thanks for the challenge.
    .-= Marlene MacIsaac´s last blog ..Writer’s Block – Time to Get Creative! =-.

  5. Jen Zotalis Avatar
    Jen Zotalis

    Know just what you mean! I have a short story and blog I’d love to do. I’ll accept your challenge! This summer, blog it is for sure. (The story might need to simmer a bit, but I’ll put some time in.) Thanks for the push. Love this post!

  6. Laurel Rogers Avatar

    Hey, Carson-
    Sometimes I feel my ideas weigh me down. There are so many at times that I ‘file them away’ as you say. The damnable boxes are full-and unpleasantly dusty. I’m never sure when one will pop out of its own will-and some do-and crack me over the head.
    Then, I write.
    .-= Laurel Rogers´s last blog ..The Tobacco Diaries II =-.

  7. Amy Harrison Avatar

    I spent hours the other day writing a post that chopped and changed and evolved and eventually became nothing but scribbles of ideas.

    My other lost ideas happen when I run in a morning. I’m so optimistic, especially if the sun’s shining and after an hour of this I figure I can pretty much take on the world with my writing.

    Sometimes the inspiration sticks, and sometimes it slips away right when I sit down at my desk to work and I get my “seriuosly though, make some money” head on.
    .-= Amy Harrison´s last blog ..What Can You Actually Change? =-.

  8. poch Avatar

    I don’t think my best ideas are rotting but I have many ideas too that are.
    In fact, it’s great ideas that frequently lead me astray from my other ideas.
    What happens is that when I’m browsing for ideas, that’s just when I get reminded of my forgotten ideas and then I act on that!

  9. Leslie Garrett Avatar

    I spent the evening last night going through bulging file folders of formerly brilliant ideas. Most of them were no longer timely, or compelling…though I plucked out a few and refiled them. My recycling bin is now overflowing with potential. Unfortunately only potential paper products after recycling.
    I still think it’s an important process though. To let an idea percolate. To re-evaluate after time and see if the idea still strikes. The key, I think, is to devote a portion of each week — say 2 hours one night after kids are in bed — to revisit the ideas and spent time on one of them. After awhile, I tend to lose steam and realize that the idea was really just a good headline. Or a good few paragraphs.
    But a few become book proposals, or magazine queries, or blog entries…
    Thanks for the kick in the derriere to make ideas a priority.

    And, as an aside, I absolutely love your writing. You’ve got a wonderful “voice”.

  10. Nikki Avatar

    Carson, you are in my head, stealing my thoughts! I have blogs that have been ignored and ideas that have shriveled up and died because I’ve been too busy (like you) paying the bills with the bulk of my writing. I’d love to take a challenge so I’m going to try and add a new piece of content to each of my little “projects” every week. Whether it’s a blog post, some research on a bigger article, or sending a query, something!
    .-= Nikki´s last blog ..Oh dear 2009, where did you go? =-.

  11. Rebecca Avatar

    I write down my ideas and prioritize them. I have many ideas for articles, I just need the publications to print them! I started outlining another YA novel while my other two ideas are sitting patiently in a folder on my computer. The difference between this YA idea is that I actually did an outline for it. I’m not a writer who likes to outline so I know I need to keep going with this one. Then there’s my feature film idea, but that requires research (working on it). Today, I thought of a non-fiction book for teens. I’m really passionate about this idea and will begin to outline — notice I said outline.

    I’ve learned to develop the idea(s) that I’m passionate about right now. I revisit my other ideas and see how I feel about them. If the passion is still there, I’ll let them sit. If not, I scrap them or just put them in another folder!
    .-= Rebecca´s last blog ..Freelance Writers Interview Like Katie, Oprah, and Diane =-.

  12. Paul Novak Avatar

    I tend to take notes whenever something strikes me as interesting, then file it away for later use as you’ve mentioned. However, I work towards not allowing anything to sidetrack me while I am working on a particular piece, so I rarely find myself going off on a tangents. I don’t worry too much about never getting around to past ideas because in my case, I find I do best when I am inspired and motivated.

    Since a lot of times something may seem like a great idea when you first come up with it, but after working on it a bit the “spark” seems to fizzle, I like leaving some things to cool on a back burner for awhile.

    When I find myself stumped or stalled for a subject, THEN I’ll go back into my notes and see what I saved. If something in there still sparks my interest after having been tucked away for awhile, I feel pretty confident that it’s a good subject.
    .-= Paul Novak´s last blog ..Supply and “DEMAND”: The Great Debate =-.

  13. Littlehill Avatar

    I’m just glad to know that I’m not the only writer
    with this malady. I’ll take the challenge.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.