Hello. My name is Meg and I have a very dumb idea.
But guess what? I am in love with it. And that love means there is no stopping this inspiration train. It’s already chugging. We’re going. We’re going places and starting projects we probably shouldn’t and that’s OK. Because sometimes, dumb ideas turn out just fine in the end.
Ever since I took some much needed time off from my full-time job around the holidays, my brain has been accepting and flirting with an alarmingly high volume of new ideas.
This is not the worst thing that can happen to a creative individual such as myself by any means. But it can feel a little overwhelming at moments. Stressful at others. And sometimes I get so excited about a potential new project that I start to wonder … will this euphoria last? Will it stick around long enough for me to make a dent in the planning stage? Or will it, like so many ideas before it, lay down and die before it ever gets the chance to live?
This is not something at all silly to wonder about. You know this because you have had the exact same thought on more than one occasion. Is it really worth it? Will I just give up again like I did with the last great idea I had? Will it be harder than I am prepared for? Is this even something I am remotely capable of accomplishing?
It’s even possible that worries such as these have steered you away from pursuing projects you would have been passionate about because such questions sent you on a downward spiral of doubt and fear — such an intense spiral, perhaps, that you backed out of your plan long before you even came close to finalizing it.
It is true what they say — ideas come and go; not all of them stick around forever.
But sometimes riding the wave of euphoria that accompanies a big idea is the only way to turn it into something bigger than you ever could have imagined.
For a long time, I have called the unexpected flow of ideas mentioned above “brain rush.” Opposite of “brain drought” (think writer’s block, but … not), brain rush, to me, perfectly describes the inspiration-fueled rush of ideas that sometimes starts as a slow drip inside your head and ends up flooding every other thought and emotion inside you until you almost forget how to breathe.
I love what brain rush represents — the notion that even in those moments you start to think you have officially run out of new ideas for good, more can and almost always do appear.
But I also understand firsthand what it feels like to worry that this thrill won’t last. Because this is typically how the life cycle of an idea works. It seeks you out, and if you love it, you love it HARD. You immediately want to pick it up and hug it and squeeze it and immediately transform it into something tangible. A book or a drawing, a song, a script, a blog post … a podcast.
The issue is that once you actually start taking that original idea and attempting to shape it into something the whole world can enjoy, it loses a great deal of its shine. Where once it caught your eye and you found yourself fully unable to look away, now you are mostly bored and often even frustrated.
Feeling negative emotions toward an idea you once found flawless usually happens when turning that idea into something real becomes challenging in a way it never has before. You hit your first roadblock. Suddenly, your idea isn’t just a simple idea anymore. It has become a mountain as tall as the sky that you must climb up and back down again before you can call it ready or finished or acceptable.
Example: You suddenly have a dumb but maybe not so dumb after all idea for a new novel (you know, hypothetically). You have been trying to come up with a good, usable idea for a novel for quite some time. As soon as you stopped actively trying to come up with something, BOOM. An idea appeared. And wow, it is such a good idea that you couldn’t possibly ignore it now. It has arrived. You may claim it as your own.
But even though you still feel both inspired and motivated to continue writing for days after the fact, you eventually start to feel the novelty wear off. Your novel idea has begun to lose its shine. The more you play with it, the more familiar it becomes. And the more familiar it becomes, the easier it is to see its many imperfections.
And that, among other factors, has caused you to question whether or not continuing with this book is even worth the effort. After all, it seemed like a pretty decent idea at first … but not so much anymore. Now, it’s just yet another idea that you may never finish turning into something you can hold.
Is there a way to make it look and feel shiny and new again?
The answer to this question really depends on whether or not you can afford to spend some time away from your project. At least, that is the way I see it. And this strategy, if you want to call it that, can actually work in two different ways depending on how you want to tackle it.
You can either distance yourself from your idea or project shortly after you discover it, or you can do the same thing after you have already begun working on it.
This suggestion scares a lot of people, and I completely understand why … because it scares me too. The idea of walking away from something that sounds and feels fun and exciting just doesn’t seem right when you first look at it. Why not take advantage of the euphoria while it rages?
Well, that’s the thing — you SHOULD. You SHOULD run headfirst toward your idea while it is still fresh in your mind. You SHOULD do a little planning. You SHOULD squeeze as much productivity out of your fresh inspiration as you can manage.
But at some point, that inspiration is going to need a hard refresh. And that’s certainly the advantage of allowing yourself to walk away — temporarily — in the middle of working on something you don’t want to give up on completely.
The fear is always that once you go on a “break” you will never reunite with your idea or all the things it stood for before. But this is where strategies like start dates (“reverse deadlines”) come in handy. Do whatever you can to convince your brain that you will, at some point, return to finish what you started.
And then you actually have to figure out how to, well … do that.
What has really helped me in the past is to write down a list of things that get me excited about the project I am or want to work on, even just simple bullet points that remind me why I want to do what I want to do and what it truly means to me. It’s going to help me help people. Or it’s what I studied/trained for. It’s something I love. It’s a way to fill my time that simultaneously fills me up.
Return to this list when you are hesitant or doubtful about returning to your unfinished work.
Chances are, when you do return to what you once began, it will feel almost like new again. A little less shiny, some dents and chips here and there. But it will still be yours. You still might be able to change the world with it.
Even when your excitement fades, don’t ever truly let it go. It may not always seem like your ideas are worth the effort. But more times than not, they turn out to be just that … and so, so much more.
Not all dumb ideas turn out to be great ones.
But all we can do in this life is hope that at least one of them will.
Maybe, for you, it’s the one that’s on your mind now. This is it. This is the one that matters.
You will never know the outcome until you give your potentially great idea a chance.
Take the chance. Grab onto the thrill, and never let it go.
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.