Why An Idea Always Sounds Better in Your Head

It was such a great idea! What happened?

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It’s happened to every single one of us at least once since we started writing.

You’ll just be minding your own business and BOOM! A brand-new idea for a book or a poem or a video or a song pops into your head and wow, it’s a GREAT idea. You should start working on it RIGHT NOW!

And you do. But you very quickly get the feeling your idea — the same idea that sounded so great and that got you so excited five minutes ago — is actually a terrible idea.

To be clear, there are many ideas that sound great at first but really do end up being awful ideas that aren’t worth pursuing at all. But this isn’t always the case.

Sometimes, the idea is still good. It just looks and feels different when you start pulling it apart. Why is that?

What it really comes down to is that when you get an idea for a book, for example, you immediately envision the story unfolding, everything coming together neatly in a set number of pages. You might even, without realizing it, picture yourself holding the finished product in your hands — all this within seconds of thinking, “You know, this would make a great story for a book.”

But then you actually sit down with that idea still burning bright inside your mind and realize you’re not actually looking at anything that even resembles a book.

It’s just a blank page. And your idea is still starting fires in your head.

Of course, there’s an obvious solution to this problem: In order to get the finished book you want other people to see/read/enjoy, you have to glue your butt to a chair anywhere from several months to many years just to get one draft of the thing written down.

And then you have to edit and rewrite most of that draft you worked so hard on. AND THEN you either have to do it again on your own or find someone who will (for a price) help you turn your mess of a story into something that can potentially be sold to a publisher.

(I know there are other routes to go besides this one, but when I started writing books, self-publishing wasn’t as widely accepted or common as it is now, so I’m sticking with this imaginary situation for the sake of simplicity.)

That’s right … you can’t just greet a new idea, snap your fingers, and flip through the glossy, finished pages of your novel. You have to actually do a bunch of work to put your idea into words — and then some.

I’m not saying people who have ideas but never do anything with them are “lazy” or anything like that. Not at all. I do think, however, there are some people who are fortunate enough to have been taught the art of discipline growing up, and then there are those who were not taught that and have to learn it through years of practice.

And unfortunately, not everyone has the time/resources/energy to put in the kind of practice required to become skilled at the art of having an idea and physically doing something with it.

Can anyone learn it? Absolutely. Do many people make excuses as to why they can’t? Most definitely. But I think the first step is to acknowledge that you’re the only one responsible for turning your idea into a book or short story or whatever it is you feel called to create. You have to do the work. And it’s going to be challenging. You’re going to have to push yourself harder than you ever have before, every time you do this, to get it done.

An idea sounds better in your head than it does when you start writing it because up until now, you were looking at it at surface level. You saw all the fun and cool parts that made you excited about writing it. But now you’ve started dissecting it and really thinking about how to make it into a story that works at all angles, and well … there are things you haven’t figured out yet. Things wrong with it. Things you’re maybe not really looking forward to writing, but that have to be written to complete the story and complement the parts you’re excited about.

Is it going to be difficult? Yes. But you can do it. We all can. You just need to give yourself some time to work through every bump in the road.

No matter what, just keep writing. As long as you keep moving forward, you have a greater chance of figuring it all out and writing a pretty decent first draft of a book. You got this!


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


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12 thoughts on “Why An Idea Always Sounds Better in Your Head

  1. It certainly is a long process, and that initial excitement is hard to hold onto. I’m still revising, so I can’t speak to completion or publication, but the crafting of a dream is tedious and exhausting. Hopefully, it is also rewarding.

  2. Reblogged this on Ann Writes Inspiration and commented:
    This is so true, I’ve had an idea for a story based on an image that got stuck in my head for days, but the first attempt went South, because I didn’t like where the story was going. I dumped the first story and tried again. Now I just got to pull myself together and figure out what I want to do with the story I ended up with.

      1. Meg, thanks for asking. I have written two short stories and posted here. I am editing the third one now, and I have an idea for the next story. I don’t think that I am ready for a novel . . . yet.

  3. Interesting. It is difficult to write a book and it does take a long time but some of us are just addicted to it. When the ideas come we do just that, sit down for 12 months and turn it into a story.

  4. I forget where I first encountered the idea, but I once heard that every artist starts with an idea in their mind, and while that idea is critical to the creative process, there comes a time in any project where the artist must accept that the idea in their mind was only a stepping stone.
    In some ways I imagine it’s a bit like trying to literally translate a book into a movie, or vice versa.
    The differences in the medium make it impossible to perfectly translate, and what medium can be more unique than within one’s mind?

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