No one has really figured out how to explain to “non-writers” how writers “come up with” their ideas. But an idea is an idea. Entrepreneurs, inventors—there are plenty of forms an idea can take. Explaining how ideas “come to you” isn’t as important as what you do with the ideas you do grab hold of.
As far as stories go, ideas are just part of the process. Sometimes you don’t realize how many you come up with in a given period of time, but when you do, you certainly rarely find a reason to complain about it.
But once you get an idea—is it a forever companion?
Ideas are abstract, but it’s possible to better understand the process of creating and constructing when you use a metaphor. Here, we think of ideas as “born and developing.” It sounds a bit odd at first, but it makes more sense when you break it down.
Ideas have a sort of “growth cycle”
Often, out of nowhere, an idea spontaneously forms in your brain. We’re not scientists, so we just call this magic. And it really can be quite magical, that moment you realize something has appeared in the deep, mysterious depths of your mind that wasn’t there five seconds ago.
Ideas form, and ideas grow. The more you nurture them, the more they develop and mature before your eyes. This process continues even after your original idea becomes a finished product—let’s use a published book as an example. That book started out as just an idea only you could access. Now it has become something sharable with anyone who wants to enjoy it.
Not every idea you have will grow to its full potential
This is, in a sense, just part of life. Not every story idea you have will make it all the way to a published book. This is where the steps of the process get a little fuzzy.
There are some ideas you will try to nurture and just don’t have what it takes to make it very far in the cycle. This might mean laying aside a project you’ve already put a lot of time and effort into—but don’t get discouraged. It does not mean you are a terrible writer, or a failure, or that your idea was “bad.”
Some ideas just try to move through the cycle in a way that isn’t working right now, either because you need to give it more time to develop, or because your idea has begun to form—but there’s a smaller piece of it that’s trying to get your attention while buried under other fragments.
What does “giving up on” an idea really mean?
“Giving up” isn’t the best way to think of the process of re-evaluating your ideas. There’s just an overly negative connotation there, one that often makes writers feel like every project they start that just isn’t working somehow makes them less of a success.
Instead, think of setting a project aside as “giving it time to settle.” When we reach out and encourage you not to give up—what we really mean is, don’t lose faith in the great ideas you do have. Let’s return to something we wrote above.
Sometimes a great idea forms—but along with it come everything you unintentionally associate with that idea, like movies you’ve seen or books you’ve read that remind you of it. That’s always going to be there. And sometimes what stops us from being able to write a promising, original piece is the fear that we are copying someone else’s work too closely.
Strip that idea down to its roots. Separate it out into its smaller fragments. You might have a story idea about a teenager who loses his only parent and goes on an adventure in search of the other. Not so original, right? But is there another element underneath that’s really the intended focus, such as him avoiding college applications because he doesn’t want to follow in either of his parents’ footsteps?
Outline your story, if you have to. Find the part of your idea that’s really reaching out to you. It might be the missing inspiration you’ve been searching for.
So now we return to our initial question: can ideas die?
The answer: no. Like us, they get exhausted. They get worn out and distorted. Sometimes we try to manipulate them so much into becoming what we think we want them to be, their true identities seem to disappear.
But you can bring them back. Even if it means putting your current story aside and giving it time to rest, and remind itself what it really wants to become.
Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.