When writers complain to me about running out of things to write I ask them if they’ve had any bad ideas lately. You know, the ones they discarded because they seemed “too” something or other. Too silly, too deep, too off-color, too bland, too insane, too righteous, too, well, too bad.
I say go back and use those ideas. Why not? Why do writers have to wait around for good ideas? Are those the only ones that end up making good novels and movies? I doubt it.
I think writers come up with loads of ideas, bad ones and good ones, and by not rejecting them, allow the bulk of these ideas to give way to multiples of ideas. And out of this array of creativity comes the best of the best.
There is scientific research on this. An excerpt from a study done by Karl Ulrich and Steven Eppinger at Wharton and Sloan schools of management:
Studies respectively show via various simulation and empirical methods “ that one maximizes one’s chances of obtaining exceptional ideas not necessarily by raising the average quality of ideas generated, but rather by increasing the variance of quality of generated ideas (i.e., generate both worse and better ideas).”
See? It’s not about worrying how to come up with a great idea, it’s about writing down all kinds of crazy s**t including ideas that appear bad at the time. Think of every idea as a wayward kid you can work with. Don’t abandon the little guy. There’s always hope.
The search to write the great American Novel, to be a noted writer, to write words that people will stop and savor again and again can push a writer into mulling over typed pages for days at a time. Maybe even years.
Are they good enough? Are these my best ideas? I bet I could make these chapters better. Where’s my thesaurus?
If we concentrate on waiting for only good ideas to come into our heads the blank page might remain blank. What if it’s true? Maybe we don’t have any more good ideas. Then what?
Then we can turn to Seth Godin, entrepreneur and author of eighteen bestsellers. Here’s what he has to say to writers who’ve run out of good ideas:
“Your problem isn’t that you don’t have enough good ideas, your problem might be that you don’t have enough bad ideas.”
That’s right. Bad ideas are okay. Bad ideas are not going to wreck anything. Bad ideas are challenging, cryptic, annoying. They might even be dangerous.
How’s that for terrifying? Writing can’t be an exercise in perfection from the get go. Every paragraph doesn’t have to sing literary anthems to our talents right off the keyboard.
The more we write, the more great, good, half-way decent, mediocre and yes, downright awful stuff comes out of our heads and the more we have to play with, edit, shine up and spit back out as wonderful.
When given the choice to stare at a blank page or start slinging words for an hour or two and maybe get a germ of a story I say there is no choice.
If we wait for the good ideas to arrive our consciousness might intervene with something akin to serious doubt. We might even become convinced we don’t have the ability to write at all.
Why risk that outcome when all it takes is a few taps on the old keyboard or some scribbles on a pad of paper. Risk writing something bad. It might feel good.
And it may be surprising. A blank page is no surprise. A blank page is just a disappointment.
Every day will not produce a powerful page of writing or any writing at all. Some days are meant to be thoughtful days where stories percolate. The point is to write often and without the pressure to be perfect.
Waiting for the perfect idea is the best way to never write a novel. Take a risk, write whatever comes out, good or bad. An idea is precious and as writers we can produce as many as we want as often as we want. I consider that ability an honor and a gift. Throw some around today. Good or bad it all starts with an idea.
Without it nothing else follows.
Christina for PenPaperWrite
Put it all together at the next 60 Scenes® Writing Method 1-Day Workshop on July 21st in Atlanta, GA. Register here www.60scenes.com
No matter how many writing courses you’ve taken, 60 Scenes® will put them to work. They will all make sense when you learn Storyboarding, Scene developing and the Outer and Inner Journey of Plot and lots more.
I’ll be leading the Workshop on July 21st. See you there. www.60scenes.com