Imagine running out of ideas for your writing. It’s the stuff of nightmares. You sit down at your computer or pick up your pen, ready to leap into a new story, and there’s…nothing. The well has run dry. The spark has been extinguished. The horror, the horror!
I have plenty of challenges when it comes to my own writing, but running out of ideas isn’t one of them. My problem is usually the opposite. I have plenty of ideas. My idea cup overfloweth. Every day I get at least one new idea, if not more. I have ideas tucked into notebooks, written on the backs of phone bills, jotted quickly into Evernote or a draft text. I have ideas that I never got around to writing down, but they’re assembled in the central idea-hub of my brain, hoping to be plucked from the crowd and turned into something amazing.
It doesn’t seem like much of a problem, right? Isn’t it better to have too many ideas instead of none?
Generally, yes. But I hoard my ideas. That idea-hub in my brain? It’s jam-packed, and I’m not sure how much more I can cram in there. My ideas are spilling out all over the place. If I’m not careful, I’ll trip over a pile of ideas while trying to do something important, like cross the street or remember my sister’s phone number.
I don’t want to throw any of my ideas out—what if I lose my best idea ever? What if I need that idea again someday, when the ideas flow more slowly?
At the same time, I’d like to get rid of some of those ideas that—let’s face it—are just not going to work out. I’d like to free up some of my brain to focus on the ideas that I can craft into good stories.
Spring seems like a good time to give my idea-hub a thorough cleaning. I have decided to take the same approach I would take to spring-cleaning my closet: take everything and lay it all out to have a good look, and then divide all the things into four piles (or files, in this case): KEEP, REPURPOSE, DONATE, or TOSS.
Want to join me? Here’s how you can think about what goes in these piles:
- KEEP: This pile is for those bright, precious, and meaningful ideas that you know will make great stories some day. They have longevity, impact, and potential. Keep these ideas in a file or notebook close at hand. Finish whatever it is that’s keeping you from pouncing on any one of them right now, or make the time to pick one and write it into being. Make a promise to yourself that you will focus on these beautiful ideas, one at a time.
- REPURPOSE: You might come across ideas that area really not very good, but, when you take a closer look, you will see they have the kernel of something usable. It could be a word, a phrase, or a feeling it evokes—whatever it is, you can use that tidbit. You might also be able to re-work the idea into a different piece, like a poem instead of a novel, or a blog post or a drabble. Stash these ideas away, and see if you can work it into another piece later.
- DONATE: Could someone else use that idea you don’t care for anymore? Give it away! Share it as a prompt on social media. Use it as an exercise for your writing group. Suggest it as an option for a fellow writer’s WIP. Be a good literary citizen, and support your fellow writers.
- TOSS: Even the best ideas lose their luster over time. Maybe they are so dated that they are no longer workable. Maybe you came up with these ideas at a different time in your life, and now they make you cringe. You really don’t want your grand-kids to find these ideas in a dusty box in the attic after you are gone. So get rid of them. Delete, erase, bury, rub out, strike-through, burn. Make a ritual out of it, if you like, giving a small prayer of gratitude to your muse for giving you that whacked-out idea in the first place. And then get back to those good ideas.
Hopefully these tips will help you clear out some idea-junk, so you can focus on the ideas you can really work with.
Have fun with your spring cleaning—and your writing!