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When Good Ideas Go Bad

I carry a little Molskine notebook around with me, most of the time. I jot down phrases, story ideas, random thoughts, and even the occasional bits of a poem or lyric. The pocket-sized volume is very important to me. It holds a lot of the ingredients that are constantly simmering in my creative mind.

Another thing I will write in the notebook: Blog ideas.

Last week I made several quick entries of topics I wanted to blog about. This week, I attempted to write those blog posts. Without success.

I tried several times. Started three times, just yesterday. But none of those attempts “took” and I was reminded: Sometimes good ideas go bad.

This is true in all kinds of writing: blogs, fiction, non-fiction, poetry. If you’ve ever been really excited by the concept of a movie and then walked out of the theater with glazed eyes and a headache, you know it happens in script writing.

A good idea is only one part of writing. It’s only a MINOR part of writing. I heard someone say once, “I would rather read a boring topic written well than a brilliant topic poorly written.” (I may have also heard someone say the exact opposite, but with less panache…)

Sometimes, a good idea isn’t enough to get the creative engine running. That’s a frustrating thing, though. It’s one thing to stare at a blank page for hours when you’ve “got nothing.” It’s much worse to have the idea, but fail to find the words you are looking for to flesh the idea into reality.

There are two things I took away from this experience, though:

1) Some people would call this “writer’s block” – But, I’ve not been blocked in other areas the last two days. I would say I’m blocked when it comes to writing those two blog posts, but I’ve accomplished other writing tasks. Ultimately, this may be the way I best deal with the idea of writer’s block: I have multiple things I can work on, and if I get stuck in one place, I can focus somewhere else.

2) My little notebook – It’s more than just a temporary holder of ideas. It is part of a larger archival strategy. Whatever good idea isn’t working today, may work later. A story idea that sputters and stalls out today, may leap off the page next year. As writers, we are often told to “kill our darlings” when it comes to passages we are too in love with but which weigh a story down. Some people even say we should get rid of good ideas that seem to go bad; they aren’t worth our time if they don’t come freely. But I tend to exile my darlings, not kill them. They may be pulled from a story, or not written about on the blog, but they aren’t thrown away. I have notebooks and an odds-and-ends computer file where these little snippets dawdle until I’m ready for them. When I’m really feeling like I don’t have anything to write about, I will look through all these bits and pieces and see if anything is triggered. It almost always works.

So, maybe I shouldn’t call it a bad idea. Let’s call her, misunderstood.

photo credit: Alex Bellink via photo pin cc

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