Ideas are Cheap
I once challenged myself to write 1,000 words, every day, as an exercise to improve my writing. I kept at it for the better part of a year, and learned a lot. Most of the writing I did was journal-style freewriting, as well as some exercises from The 3 A.M. Epiphany by Brian Kiteley (a really great book full of prompts to write from). I really wanted to write something more substantial, but the ideas I had were all things I wanted to save for later, when I could “do them justice”. These were my “hole in one” ideas, the plots and characters that would someday make me rich and famous. (Or, at the very least, published!)
Recently, I’ve been trying (again) to write every day. (I’m not shooting for 1k words this time, but perhaps I should…) Once again, I found myself holding a few ideas close, reluctant to write them because of my perceived lack of skill.
It really struck me the other day how ludicrous that reluctance was. I was sitting in front of my computer, considering what to write, feeling frustrated, and telling myself, “I don’t have any good ideas…”
And yet, I knew I had a few great ideas, the ones that were so amazingly good that I was afraid to spoil them by touching them with my grubby, immature little fingers. What business did I have telling myself that I didn’t have any good ideas, when I had proof to the contrary right there?
I wondered: if I have those ideas, what other great ideas might I have?
And I determined, right then, to prove to myself that I had other good ideas. I challenged myself to come up with ten story ideas, with setting, character, and conflict. That was my writing prompt for the day.
I’d like to say that I was surprised by how easy the exercise was, but it frankly wasn’t. It took me most of an hour to wrack my brain and come up with ten ideas, but I did it. Some of them were pretty weak, a few were downright lame, but among those ten were two or three gems that I was kind of excited about.
I did the exercise again the next day. Again, it was a challenge, but this time almost all of them were things I was excited about.
I’m going to do this exercise again today, and every day for at least a week. My hypothesis is that my “idea generator” will ramp up and the process will get easier, and easier, but even if it doesn’t, I’ve proven to myself that I am capable of coming up with good–heck, great–ideas.
I have no doubt that this is true in any creative endeavor. Programming? Painting? Glassblowing? Interpretive dance? I’m sure I’m not the only one to be paralyzed by the thought of “ruining” my million-dollar idea. But ask yourself that crazy question, the one that spurred me to try my experiment: if you can have that great idea, why not more?
Give it a try. Give yourself an uninterrupted hour. Sit down, and brainstorm some ideas. You have my permission to make the ideas as ridiculous, far-fetched, and embarrassing as possible–whatever it takes, just write them down. Do this for a few days, and then go back and review the things you’ve written down there. I’ll bet you’ll find yourself looking at some new “great” ideas. And your idea generator is just getting started.
See what I mean? Ideas are cheap! Generate a bunch of them! Dozens, hundreds, whatever it takes.
The craziest part of all, though? I think back now on those two or three ideas I had, the ones I once held so close because I thought they were too awesome to write. I’m a bit surprised to see that they’re looking kind of meager these days. Some of the new ones I’ve come up with recently are much more exciting.
I really ought to buckle down and start writing some of them.