I’m sorry if this blog post takes your mind to places you’d rather it not go right now. I didn’t ask for this topic to pop into my head, it sort of grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me and started screaming until I could get to my computer to start unfolding it. So. I apologize in advance if this is Too Much. It’s a Friday night for me. I’ve had a long week and all the big thoughts are having their moment. I have to respect that.
That being said, let’s get into the truth bomb of the week: Someday, we’re all going to die.
It’s true, though. This life we’re living is not a forever thing. I’m not particularly interested in thinking too much about this because, you know, Anxiety. But again. My brain is on a train heading to Deep Town and I can’t stop it now.
And knowing this — that every moment that passes is one moment closer to our last — really makes me worry about all the stories I’m never going to get to write.
Because, of all the things to worry about when it comes to the end of things, this is what my brain chooses to focus all its remaining energy on. Fantastic.
I am the type of person who gets an adrenaline rush every time a new idea sparks the beginning of yet another project. Sometimes I crave that rush so strongly that I start writing just so another idea might come along and introduce itself to me.
Because of this habit — I suppose you can’t assume it’s a bad one all the time, though it does sometimes start to spiral out of control — I have many ideas for stories just hanging out waiting for their turn to be written. A lot of them are tucked safe and sound into a Google Doc I can’t remember the name of, but I always somehow manage to find it in my files when I need it. Some of them are still scraping around in my head, absolutely refusing to die, as some of the most stubborn, determined ideas will do.
I worry most about the ones who are sleeping.
The aggressive ones I’m almost afraid to write down — because I’m afraid that once I do, I’ll accidentally write an entire novel instead of just a few sentences summarizing the idea — they’ll get worked on sooner rather than later. They are loud, persistent, and always peeking over my shoulder watching me work on other projects.
“Is it my turn yet?” They all ask in unison, and I momentarily consider ordering a pair of earplugs off Amazon before I remember earplugs don’t block out the noise coming from your own head.
But what about the quiet ones? The ideas that aren’t bad, but perhaps don’t feel as urgent or fully formed or ready for my full attention? They may be safe and protected in their own space on the Google cloud, but what if I just keep on adding more and more to the list and the older ones get buried by the newer ones and when it’s all said and done I won’t have even written half of what I intended to throughout my life?
Such is the constant struggle of existing in this world as a writer. It is, as I have said many times, a world not always built with the writer in mind.
There just isn’t enough time to write everything we are tempted to write. This realization overwhelms me in the same way truths about all the books I’ll never read and all the TV shows I’ll never watch bothers me endlessly. I want there to be more time. I don’t know what “enough” time means, but that’s what I want there to be. Just enough time to make sure all the stories in my heart get told.
We don’t always get what we want. This is one of those things we know, and have been told one too many times, and yet we still want it all the same.
The truth is that even though it may seem like it sometimes, you as an individual will never run out of ideas even though you will one day run out of time. As long as you keep exploring the world and experiencing what life has to offer you, new possibilities will always package themselves into bite sized ideas you can take home and do with them what you will when the time comes to do so.
Unfortunately, this means there will always be leftover ideas in our minds — and on our hard drives — we simply will not have time to give much deserved attention to.
It’s not fair that things have to be this way. But that does not change that this is the way things are, and the way they have always been. There is no changing it, no matter how frustrated you are right now remembering all the great ideas you’ve had over the years that you just let collect dust all this time (sorry).
What happens to the stories you never get around to writing?
I personally like to believe they find new minds to occupy. After all, ideas attach themselves to specific people in hopes they will be given a place to grow and thrive, and while I suppose it might be possible for an idea to die, it feels much more logical to think they migrate to new homes. Make friends with new writers. Get second chances to become something even if we couldn’t end up being the ones to help get them there.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that you should let the difficult ideas sit around until you’re gone. Sometimes we neglect certain ideas because we aren’t exactly sure what to do with them. Some ideas are just smaller pieces of much bigger ideas that need to be pieced together like puzzles, and while that sounds like a lot of fun imagining it, it’s a lot to take on when you actually start working on it. This part of the process is just too intimidating for some of us.
There are a lot of ideas out there. And there are a lot of ideas that have found us and kind of just refuse to leave. Which ideas you give your attention to depends on how you are feeling in that moment, what’s going on in your world, the other commitments you’ve made. You might really WANT to write your modern day Little Women adaption RIGHT NOW but it turns out you sort of have a deadline and someone else is waiting for you to finish something else and oh, well, I guess I’ll just tuck that one back into its cozy space and hope I don’t forget about it …
Frustrating. Upsetting, even. But honestly, is there any writer’s life that, at some point or another, isn’t?
The urgency we feel when we realize we don’t have the time, space, or energy to write All The Things is normal. But we have to figure out how to use it to fuel our best, most important work. Yes, I’m talking about prioritizing. I know just the idea of it is making you sweat a little, but trust me, it’s the only way to stay sane (as much as one can, with stories inside you) and write the things that matter most.
Because you may not end up writing everything you want to write. But the hope is that you do write at least one thing that makes a difference. If you don’t write a dozen or a hundred or even two things, at least make sure you make one thing that counts. That’s all the universe is asking of you, after all.
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.