I stand in the shower with my eyes closed letting the hot water hit me. It always clears my head. It always forces me to spend time alone with my thoughts, to confront them and acknowledge their existence.
From these moments almost always comes an idea, if not several. We don’t call them “shower thoughts” for nothing. When there is nowhere else to turn, we face our ideas head-on. Almost as if we are giving them permission to approach, and all the chances in the world to show us what they are capable of.
Ideas are the most thrilling when you don’t go looking for them. I don’t stand in the shower expecting an idea to appear — there are plenty of much more important reasons for maintaining adequate hygiene. But I won’t lie and say I’m not pleasantly surprised when I do encounter an idea I can’t refuse.
There is only one problem with this phenomenon — literally forcing yourself into a box in which you have no choice but to allow new ideas to flow into your head for at least 10 to 15 minutes at a time.
At some point, it starts to feel as though there are too many ideas, and not enough time to give each and every one of them the attention they deserve.
This has been my greatest hardship as a writer for a very long time — but especially this year. Spontaneous ideas that appear when I am busy doing things other than writing are great — I am quick to write them down in the hope I will not forget them.
But there are just as many moments in which I am in the middle of writing or editing and more than one idea appears as the result of that work. I cannot help but crave the time and space to expand that idea and see if it is worth putting the time and effort into developing further.
But there isn’t always time. There isn’t always room. And the most devastating of all is that I just don’t always have it in me to take on yet another project. No matter how much I might want to — no matter how much I might desperately wish that I could.
There is nothing in this world that is more frustrating to me than feeling motivated to write things and having ideas and feeling fully “on” inside my head but feeling too physically exhausted, out of sorts, or “incapable” of putting any of those ideas into words.
There are weeks I feel I am at war with my body because I want to stay awake and write but it will not let me. Or I am so weighed down with other “real world” responsibilities that by the time I finally sit down to make words happen, I have lost all the desire I once had to type even one hundred words before giving up.
It’s often said that we will never be able to write everything we want to write in our lifetime. And I make no attempt to keep secret that I do not like this truth. I am aware of it, but I have a very hard time accepting it.
Some of my ideas are awful, and every once in a while I don’t realize how awful they are until I have already started working on them — sometimes even not until after I am finished with them. This is normal — this is part of what it means to be a writer. No one has only good ideas. Having bad ideas is just part of being human.
But the thing is, even though I have plenty of ideas that will never become anything significant (at least as far as I know), I have so many ideas I genuinely believe are good. And just the thought of so many of those ideas never reaching an audience — or becoming something that can be read at all, if I never get around to actually putting words to them — terrifies me.
The sense of dread I feel when I consider how much I will never get around to writing is so often the very thing that discourages me from writing more. Because in those moments you really start to wonder: If this is a never-ending cycle and no matter how much we write we will never write it all, is there even a point to all this?
Why are we doing this — writing all these things? Why are we even here?
To search for meaning and/or purpose in this life is yet another truth that defines humanity. We all want to believe there is a reason we exist right here, right now, at this point in whatever timeline we happen to be on, in this precise location. And some of us spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out what matters most to us and how we can use that passion to fuel the work that fulfills whatever purpose we think we have in this world.
If my purpose is to write things that encourage people to think and feel and talk and change their own lives one page at a time, then I suppose I really shouldn’t worry that not everything I want to say will be said. I really have two options in this regard: Say nothing out of frustration that I cannot say everything, or try to reach as many people as possible by writing as much as possible. Not everything, never all, but plenty more than nothing.
If and when you are ever overwhelmed by an unexpected flood of ideas you aren’t sure you will have time for all of them, in the moment the best thing you can do is sit down, take a deep breath, and write down as many of those ideas as you can. Don’t be surprised if more ideas appear as you write the original ones down. Just get it all out onto a page, however long it takes.
Later you can worry about prioritizing and choosing what’s most important to you in the moment. Saying yes to some ideas and “not right now” or even “probably never” to others is not a pleasant experience. The things that you hold close to your heart deserve better, you often think. They’re YOUR ideas. They came to YOU.
But the hardest truth of all is that some of your ideas will be wonderful, winning, life-changing ideas that you cannot hold onto. Either they aren’t the right fit for you or you just don’t have the bandwidth or stamina to give them the life they deserve.
In that case all you can do is hope that when you let them go, someone else will find them and give them a good home and raise them to become the fully formed stories they have always deserved to be.
No matter how hard you might be tempted to try, you will never write everything you want to write. There is simply too much to be said. There are too many stories to be told too many different ways. This feat is not meant for just one person to tackle. In a way, we are all in this together. We are all doing our part to tell the stories that are out there begging to be told.
It would take more than you have in you to write it all. That’s not a commentary on who you are as a person, it’s just a fact. We will likely only write a fraction of what we wish we could throughout our lives. This doesn’t mean we’re lazy or that we will fail at the end of it all.
It just means we eventually learn which stories are worth telling, and which ones it’s okay for us to leave behind.
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.