Letting Go of Ideas

Is there an appropriate time to kill an idea?

That precious kernel I’ve spent months cherishing; is it one of those darlings that William Faulkner wants me to take out behind the barn and make sure it never bothers anyone again? Or maybe not kill it, but slap it around and convince it to change its ways?

As a writer, I can admit to having learned one thing about myself over the past two years: I have a hard time letting go of my initial sparks. I carry the hot coals and kindling around in a tiny bucket, looking for the right spot to give it a permanent home so it can ignite into a radiant fire.

For months, I traverse the world of my imagination, noting that each day the burden of the bucket grows and that my spine begins to take on a pre-homo erectus curve.

I don’t want to utterly obliterate another idea. I’m tired of doing that.

No, I refuse. I’ve decided that I need to deconstruct it. I can feel that many of the elements for a good story are there. They’re just not put together correctly. I can’t fix the whole, but I can part it out and make something better.

-Phillip

0 thoughts on “Letting Go of Ideas

  1. This is a tough one, and there are no right answers I’m afraid. Since finishing “Sold Out,” I’ve worked on three major projects and each time I’ll get to where you’re at.

    At this point, I’m making good progress on the third one and I plan to try not give up on it no matter what. I’m crossing the 24,000 word mark, so usually the momentum starts to carry me at this point. (I tell myself I’m halfway there, even though that’s a stretch, obviously.)

    In all candidness, I do worry you’ve been doing too much research. I think we’re better off writing like crazy, guessing the range of a tank or the life in the West (in your case), working as fast as we can because once you lose that bright initial spark, it’s just so much harder… : (

    Hang in there, Phillip, and keep pressing on if you possibly can.

    1. Hey Stan! Thanks for commenting, You know I always appreciate your candid and thoughtful replies.

      I don’t think the research is the root cause of my problem. Believe it or not, it’s the research that made me realize I had a problem to begin with. I’m glad I discovered it now instead of my usual spot, 20,000 words in!

      My initial idea had things happening at the wrong times, almost like Roman soldiers carrying revolvers. So now it’s given me pause and I hope it will make the story stronger because of it. I’m still very excited about the possibilities. The landscape is still there. I just need to pull my camera back and find something else to focus on.

      Hope that makes sense.

      In other news, it sounds like you’re making real progress on your current project. Glad to hear that. I started reading Soldier On, but haven’t had a chance to finish it. It starts off really good! I’ll try to finish and leave a review soon.

      Take care, buddy.

      1. Oh, good. I’m glad the research wasn’t the problem.

        And thanks a million for buying “Soldier On!” Can’t wait to read your thoughts on it!

  2. Phillip, the first thing you’re doing right, which is to recognise the feeling. You’ve read my post about not giving up, even when you find yourself in a situation you didn’t anticipate. When the energy of an idea dies for the first time, it’s common for writers to let it go. Stick with it. It may turn into something completely different, but stay with it. When students are in this rut I say write around the problem. See it like darning a hole, you have to stay on the edge and slowly work in. You will feel hellish, but remember that feeling is the ‘extra horse’! Stay with the idea, keep coming back to the idea, even when doubt wants to make you think of other things. Keep darning! Keep writing!

    1. Thanks for the pep talk Gabriela. I really needed to hear from you and Stan. Time to grab a needle and darn that hole (I had to look that up. Learning something new all the time!)

  3. You might kill the darling from your story, but that doesn’t mean the darling is deleted forever. It may work well in another story. I never let go of ideas completely. I just may have to let go of them for a certain story. If it’s an idea you really like, it will probably come up useful in the future for another project.

    1. Very good point Jae. I never truly delete anything either. Maybe I should pore over my old notes. Who knows, something may strike me and fix my problem.

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