You Don’t Have to Use Every Idea
When I was young, my school made us say affirmations once a year. We would repeat positive statements at a ceremony. One of them was, “I will finish what I started.”
But is that really the best advice?
Sometimes, it’s easy to quit things out of frustration, when we should keep going. But other times, you know when an idea isn’t working, and continuing would be a waste of time and/or money.
Writing is the same way. Obviously, you shouldn’t quit writing entirely just because something is difficult. But sometimes a project isn’t working out. Should we feel obligated to finish a draft just because we started it?
I think a lot of times, the answer is yes. If you push yourself to finish, you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.
But often, it’s okay to put a writing project away and start something new.
Sometimes, an idea doesn’t turn out the way we thought it would. Or maybe it’s no longer timely or relevant.
You don’t have to hit “delete.” Save the draft or idea, but spend your time and mental energy on something else. You can often retool a piece and salvage it later.
At any given time, I have anywhere from fifty to a hundred drafts kicking around, in various stages of completion. That’s a lot of potential pieces. Will I ever end up finishing them all? Probably not.
I recently looked through my notes, which contain my ideas for articles and books, and many pages of research snippets. There’s a lot of information in there. So much, in fact, that I’ll most likely never use every idea.
It might sound like a waste, but it’s actually a good thing. Having a wide pool of ideas to draw from helps me when I’m stuck. And even if I can’t complete an article right now, I’ll save the draft, and the research may come in handy in the future.
I constantly work through material. Sometimes I decide against posting something because I know I can write something better: something clearer, with an original spin, or a piece that’s more useful for my readers.
I write longer pieces in Word, and jot down ideas in Google Keep. It lets me keep drafts as tiles or index cards that I move around. Old ideas sink to the bottom. Maybe I’ll use them someday, or maybe not. But they’ll be there.
And if we never use an idea? Even the best of us sometimes hit a dead end. Director Guillermo del Toro talked about having eighteen projects that never made it off the ground.
Sometimes, writing feels like taking care of a garden. We let some plants bloom, and prune back others. It may feel like a waste of time to let some ideas go, but in the long run, you’ll have plenty of ideas to nurture.
After all, why stick with a plan that isn’t working? Just save it and move on. Trust your intuition if the timing isn’t right.
Ideas can sometimes surprise you, and work well later on. For example, I saved an article published in Writer’s Digest 11 years ago. In it, Leigh Anne Jasheway-Bryant talks about the “red dress theory.”
Writers can feel paralyzed by too many ideas, she explained, so pick one that looks interesting (the red dress) and try it. Let the rest go.
I thought I’d write a piece and reference it, but years went by and I couldn’t come up with anything.
Many times I thought about recycling that article, but I saved it — mainly because the pictures were cute, but also because it resonated deeply inside of me.
Every time I cleaned out that drawer, I thought, “Will I ever use this?”
And today, I did.