Thinning the Idea Herd

A herd of goats in Greece

All right, some of you have got to go. Volunteers? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The common question writers get asked is: Where do your ideas come from?*

And, for most writers, this is the wrong question.

If you’re at all like me—and most of the other people I asked—the problem is not getting ideas. The problem is figuring out which ones to devote your time to. Because ideas? They’re like fucking snowflakes. In fact, they’re exactly like snowflakes, because, unique and magical though they may be, lately I’ve been having to shovel a pile of them out of my goddamn way before I can get anything done in the morning.

I have come to the realization that there will never be enough time in my life to write every idea that comes to me. Barring some kind of time-stop device, that is. Which I’m not ruling out.

But until the day that I hold one of the dimensions in my hands, I have to pick and choose. Which ones make the cut? Which ones aren’t strong enough? Sometimes I can use the Spotter’s Guide to weed them out, but other times, I’m left with a bunch of strong ideas, any one of which could be The One.

So I have to pick. I have methodology that I use, questions that I ask according to what I’m trying to do, but in the end it mostly comes down to gut instinct. Which one feels right? Which one piques my interest slightly more than the others? That’s the one I go with.

But sometimes I’m fucking wrong.

That happened this week. The short story that I spent all last week working on, the one that was due today…it wasn’t good enough. I got through a zero draft, took a look at it, and realized that, not only was I not into it, but you could feel that disinterest in every word.

So I trashed it.** And started again.

Yeah, it sucked to have to start over with less than a week to go. But c’est la vie. If you can’t face up to the idea of junking something because it’s not good enough, editing will be very hard for you.

In the end, the new story worked out much better, and I just barely managed to get it finished in time. It was a race, I’m not going to lie. But it’s done and sent in. Now I just have to sit back and wait for the next rejection letter.

And, in the meantime, I’ve got a whole new crop of ideas that need weeding.

*Fiction writers throughout the ages have made a number of snarky and/or clever responses to this. I encourage you to Google them, not because they’re helpful, but because they are an entertaining time waster.
**Metaphorically speaking. It’s still in the Purgatory file on my hard drive, thinking about what it did.

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