I remember a couple of months ago Seth Godin posted that he was officially out of ideas. Out of how many thousands of blog posts, he came to an end, he said. He rambled in his particular way for a few hundred words. As it turned out, him not having an idea was good enough to write about. The next day, his esoteric voice was back, and it was as if he didn’t miss a beat. I took notice, knowing that I’d run into a day where I had nothing to say as well.
So there I was, on day 247 of daily writing last year. I didn’t make it as far as Mr. Godin, but I made it farther than I thought I would if I’m being honest. Let me just go on record and say that I am not out of ideas. I have 447 ideas written down in my Evernote ideas folder. But none of them struck a chord that morning. It was the simple, “I have no ideas is still an idea” that caught my attention that day.
And why, out of 447 ideas, was that one the one that my psyche, my muse, whatever you want to call it wanted to write about? That’s a great question. Ideas are the fuel we need as writers to continue. They are also a writer’s biggest fear, that we won’t have any.
I had a brief moment that morning, actually 25 brief moments, where I wasn’t able to get started on the ideas I grabbed. First I grabbed something about a sense of humor, then I grabbed something about thankless jobs. Neither got past 200 words. Strange, that hadn’t happened to me before. That day was one of those pretravel days where I have a finite amount of time before I have to hit the road. Close to home this time, but I still didn’t get to sleep in my own bed. I had little under an hour to do my writing before the drive to Houston, 2.5 hours away for meetings. My mind was already off and thinking about the week, so I needed a strong idea to pull myself back into the creative realm.
Or did I? Ideas keep me going. They’ve become my obsession. If you wanted to sell me a book, you’d just write it about the process of creating ideas. It wouldn’t even have to promise anything. Just the history of ideas would be enough these days to get my attention. Because without a fresh stream of ideas, I have nothing to keep me going. Now that I know ideas can come from anywhere, especially when you least expect it, I knew my 2.5-hour drive would be fruitful. Great. Just what I need while I’m driving. Like there aren’t enough distractions on the road to kill us, I have to throw in that the wandering mind is the most productive idea machine known to man.
Maybe I just have to write my book on ideas. They fascinate me so much, and they’re the seeds that turn into creative works of art. It all starts with an idea. A simple, “what if?” A new situation, a slight alteration on reality, some twisted thought that rises out of our unconscious mind gives rise to something beautiful and something we could never have predicted.
That’s the part that gets me so excited and so incredulous, that these ideas can be so great and so much fun without having any lineage at all. They’re just birthed like the miracle they are. Even worse is, we don’t know which ideas are great from their initial view. We have to sit and work with them to chip away at the rough edges to make them into something smooth and polished. Sometimes the great ideas turn out to be ugly and clumsy. It happens. Then sometimes, the vague, shiftless idea turns into something great. I am always in awe of the entire process. This idea sent me off researching once I got to my hotel and had a few moments to spare.
What a great writing prompt, “Write about having no ideas.” That one might get me hate mail. To which I would reply, “At least you didn’t have writer’s block – you’re welcome.” Because that’s what we’re dealing with here, the fear of running out of ideas and having nothing left to write about, which is an insane idea.
There will always be something, always be some fire that’s burning and wants to get out. Our challenge is not being able to feel the fire every day or hear the crackling sound it makes as it eats through everything in its way. Self-awareness. It’s becoming more and more of an issue for me. I used to think I was very self-aware, now I wonder. Does that make me more, or less self-aware? Good lord, this is going to end up being an Abbot & Costello bit, or a Monty Python bit before long. I’m OK with that, just for the record. They both make me laugh. I have a great interview somewhere of John Cleese being interviewed about ideas. I’ll need to dig that one up as well.
The problem was that weekend was spent doing renovations which got me off my normal routine. Litter boxes were done by the wife on Saturday, and we forgot on Monday. That’s only one-third of my idea creation time for the weekend. It was bound to catch up to me.
But writing about not having any ideas is in itself an exercise in freedom. I know that if I can write one thousand words on a day when my brain doesn’t want to engage, I will be OK as a writer. I will be able to bullshit my way through just about anything now, I feel confident of that. But it’s not just the confidence I’m after. It’s passion and flow. The first two topics I grabbed didn’t get the words flowing, and of course, that triggers panic in a writer. But once I started letting go and writing about ideas and not having any, it all jarred loose. Funny how this all works. Clearly, I need to research more and write a book about it.
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4 thoughts on “The Day I Ran Out of Ideas”
Writing about one’s thought process on anything is an idea in itself!
I know! Every time I see someone complain about “writer’s block” I want to jump in. You may have a block for what you WANT to write, but you can always write something.
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I’ve seen a fair amount of articles writing about not having ideas, or the fact that they haven’t written in the past few weeks. Its very interesting to write about not writing.
I suppose it’s all in one’s perspective, too. If you want to write every day just to write, it’s more likely you have a stash of thoughts and ideas just waiting for the light of day. If you are contemplating writing every day for an audience, it’s a little harder. Do they want to hear what you have to say? Is it helpful, funny, or in some other way contributing to their reading pleasure? Or is it just a different form of babbling? I find myself writing blogs and then deleting them because, unfortunately, they fall in the second category. But they did contribute to the first cause, so that works too.
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