As a writer, I’m impossible. Plenty of times I sit around sketching out scenes and characters that float around in the ether with nothing to tether them to an actual story. I do this for days or weeks and wonder if maybe I’ve had my last idea and no one’s told me yet. I’m ignorant of my predicament and doomed to write pages of words that won’t go anywhere no matter how hard I press pen to paper. But, then, just as I reach the height of (or depth of) despair, something strikes me. Suddenly, there’s a glimmer of possibility and excitement and, well, dread.
The dread goes a lot like this: inside my chest, a stillness wraps around a percolating core of maybe, and I think, “Oh shit. I think this might be a novel.”
Having an idea for a book sounds like a good thing, right? Especially if you’ve managed to write one before, but that last bit is a quadruple-edged sword. You read that right; two edges aren’t nearly enough, and aren’t most swords double-edged anyway? But back to the pen, which I’m not sure is, in fact, mightier than the sword, at least in any functional way. Unlike in the movies, having an idea for a book doesn’t lead directly to a productive montage that starts with fingers pounding at keys or wadded paper missing trash cans and ultimately ends with the victorious typing of the final letter (maybe the “d” in The End?) or a neat stack of printed pages. For me, having an idea goes something like this:
- Get excited and write a few pages of notes to convince myself that it could work (NOTE: I’m extremely gullible, so I pretty much think anything will work)
- Write a few more pages of notes, moving more slowly now, and realize that this idea isn’t enough to shore up an entire novel and that now I have to work out the rest of it
- Stare out the window in queasy apprehension, thinking about the last book I wrote (or maybe am still writing) and knowing that if I really do this, it’s going to take years
- (And by years, I mean 2 to 5, which sounds pretty short for a prison sentence but is a whole lot of voluntary torture)
- Conveniently forget that doing this will ultimately consume a part of my soul and that this kernel of an idea is going to be nothing like the end result
- Get excited again and write a few more pages
Ideas are not complete meals dropped off at the doorstep of your mind by GrubHub. They’re more like a backyard garden and slaughterhouse, and it’s all wildly DIY. Then, when you get into it, you realize you need something you don’t have (but you don’t know exactly what because then you could grow it in your magic garden), and you drive around the whole county, looking for it in every roadside produce stand and specialty market, thinking, “I’ll know it when I see it. It’s like this other thing but not really. I’ll know it when I see it.” And sometimes that’s true and sometimes you realize that the problem isn’t this missing thing but something further back and the despair creeps over you again before you push it down and get on with it.
All that to say that ideas are wonderful things, and if you have a great one, keep it to yourself. :)